Podcast

Jeremy Parker: How to Build an Impact-Focused Business

Podcast

Jeremy Parker: How to Build an Impact-Focused Business

Podcast

Jeremy Parker: How to Build an Impact-Focused Business

Podcast

Jeremy Parker: How to Build an Impact-Focused Business

Podcast

Jeremy Parker: How to Build an Impact-Focused Business

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Podcast

Jeremy Parker: How to Build an Impact-Focused Business

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December 17, 2020
Podcast

Jeremy Parker: How to Build an Impact-Focused Business

41:22
MIN
/
December 17, 2020
About the Episode
When you’re building a conscientious business, every decision relies on the impact made. This is how Jeremy Parker, CEO and co-founder of multi-million dollar company Swag.com, runs not only his organization, but his life. Every step he’s taken to build this modern swag distribution company has been done with purpose, intention, and focus. This trailblazer is not only revolutionizing the swag industry, but helping others discover what it means to align business success with impact.
Episode Highlights

Be ok with failure
Once you are able to accept failure as normal, few things will hold you back. 

User experience matters
Focusing on the customer experience first is crucial to success and growth. 


Prioritize doing good
Look for ways you can make a positive impact and be conscientious with decisions.

Meet our Guest

Jeremy Parker is a unique type of leader who is more concerned with impact than money. As the CEO of Swag.com, a multi-million dollar swag distribution company, his focus is always on the best interest of his employees and customers. The young entrepreneur is a proponent of looking failure in the face, and he is never afraid to challenge the status quo. When making decisions, his guiding principle is to ask, “Is this the right thing to do?”

Episode Transcript

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. And in this episode, we are talking with Jeremy Parker. He is the CEO and co-founder of Swag.com. It's an e-commerce platform for purchasing promotional materials.

Jeremy is passionate about creating a conscientious business, serving the best interest of his employees and customers. And in our conversation, we're going to dig into how he's built a responsible business model while experiencing exponential growth, particularly during a time where others in his industry are declining. How has he reimagined his work and Swag.com's ability to grow. Let's find out.

Jeremy, welcome to Ripple Effect.


Jeremy Parker: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.


Chris Byers: As we get started, I'd love to hear and love for you to share with our listeners your background. How did you get to Swag.com, what's some history there that got you to today?

Jeremy Parker: Yes, I started as a filmmaker. I went to Boston University. I was a documentary filmmaker. I really went to college specifically for marketing or so I thought. And when I went to BU and I was looking at the course curriculum, I looked at the film program and the marketing program, I realized that they were pretty much exactly the same thing except for film. I will learn how to make videos and tell stories through videos. And this is at the onset when YouTube is starting. And I figured that's the really the way to go. And during my time there, I created a feature length documentary called One Percent that ultimately ended up winning the audience award at the Vail Film Festival, a really big film festival. And I remember I was in Vail and after the awards ceremony and I go down to the celebrity or quote unquote celebrity brunch and half the room was celebrities and half the room were these these artists, struggling artists. And I realized I had to kind of do an internal gut check, do I want this to be my life? It was a very weird flight home, you know, going back to Boston, going back to to college where I was, had pretty much the highs of the high you could get to in this independent film world. But I really realized that this was not the path for me or wasn't what I truly loved and what I wanted to do.

So after college, I started my first company and I had no business experience whatsoever. So I thought, what business can I start that I could learn all the different aspects of business? So I thought starting a t-shirt company, I could learn how to build an e-commerce site and how to do the marketing and how to do production, manufacturing and all the different aspects of business. I did this for about two years; I launched it in 2007. So if you could remember 2007, this is when all the banks were going under. It was a really bad time, especially for really high end t-shirts. And we were selling two hundred t-shirts to different boutiques all around the world. And these boutiques just ended up closing a lot of them. And what we did was we started a marketing, kind of gimmicky now that I think about it, but at the time I tied the prices of our shirts to the price of the Dow Jones. So for every hundred points the Dow dropped, the customers would get a discount on the t-shirt price. And it's a little gimmicky, but it ended up getting picked up by Mark Cuban's blog, Blog Maverick, which got a lot of eyeballs and then ultimately got picked up by Ad Age, which ran the whole feature on the story and how we're able to pivot during this really difficult period of time. And it got on the radar of this guy, Eliot Peyser.

Eliot Peyser is the CEO of Weatherproof Garment Company. And I ended up meeting with Eliot and we became friends.  I would show up as office, you know, once a week for a period of time and just kind of spit ball ideas. He was a very creative guy and we were just throwing ideas against the wall. And they also owned another business called MV Sport. Now MV Sport is one of the largest players in the promotional product space. Now, I had no knowledge of this promotional product space. I had no clue what it was. I didn't know anything about it. This was around 2009 at the time. But being around Eliot and going to different events and trade shows with Eliot, I realized that it was kind of a missing piece in this industry. So I started a creative division under MV Sport really about twelve years ago, thirteen years ago at this point. And I learned a lot about the industry as a whole, who the buyer was, what the problems of the industry were. And then you fast forward 10 years. I've done a lot of different things from starting a company with my brother and Jesse Esler that ultimately ended up selling to a publicly traded company that was around social media influencers.

I found myself ultimately always constantly thinking about the swag space and how there hasn't really been a player that's reimagined it or innovated it at all. And the aha moment of starting Swag was the industries remain old, fragmented, and broken. But the buyer changed. And once I realized that the buyer is no longer this forty, fifty year old office manager and it's a millennial buyer. Well how do you build a platform really focus on today's buyer. So 2016, started Swag.com. We've grown five years in a row. We were just named the 218th fastest growing company on the Inc 500 in 2020. We have over five thousand customers from Facebook and Google and Amazon and Netflix and Spotify and TikTok to much smaller companies. And we're really trying to streamline the entire experience, making it really easy for customers to not only find what they're looking for, design it, and buy it in a matter of seconds, but also send it out and distribute it to all of their remote employees, all of their best customers, all of their leads. So a really robust swag management and distribution platform, all in one.


Chris Byers: Well, that is an amazing story and I love the gist. Well, the story of how you used the Dow Jones kind of going up and down to change pricing, like just love the unique kind of thinking there. And it's funny you made the point you didn't know how to start a business or you didn't know what starting a business was like. And yet I actually think that's probably what's giving you the freedom to build a great business is not having a bunch of rules that you were trying to follow, but rather, how do I just see a problem and go try to work against it and make make some impact? What do you think keeps you motivated to kind of continue to build businesses?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, I always think about this. A lot of people ask me that question. I'm constantly thinking about it. It's not to make money. I'm not really that kind of person who's like, I need to make more money, make it bigger and bigger. It's kind of an internal thing. You know, I see a problem and I want to fix it. I'm like, I'm a tinkerer, I'm more of a creative in that way of trying to see the big problem, how people are doing it and trying to do it in a different way. That, I think is the right way of making people's lives a lot easier. You know, swag, it seems like such a a non-sexy industry. No one really thinks to get into the promotional product space. Many people actually think of it as throwaway items. And I want to combat that because swag is such a powerful marketing tool if it's done right. And that's a big caveat. If it's done right, it needs to be high quality. People need to get it and actually want to keep it and they want to use it. And then it's really valuable. You know, you think of in general a lot of marketing initiatives. And you watch TV and you fast forward through commercials. Right. People are trained to avoid ads at all costs. You're browsing the internet and you put the ad blocker and and it blocks those ads, or you're looking through a magazine and you flip through the ads, you want to get to the content. People are programmatically set at this point to avoid ads at all costs. And with swag, what do you say when somebody gives you a really high quality piece of products or something you say thank you. It really does make an impact when you give them something that they're actually going to value.

So my entire business, it was from the very beginning, was really focused on, well, let's curate the best of what's out there. You know, I don't need to offer a thousand pens, a thousand notebooks. Let's curate. Let's make it really easy for customers to find what they're looking for and make sure that every single thing on our site is quality. But then who has time to look through these big catalogs and wasting paper and all these things that just doesn't make any sense. Let them streamline it. Let them find it. Upload their logo. Our system detects how many colors are in the logo. Click a button, checkout, click a button and send it to a thousand different addresses. I want it in the marketing closet or sales closet. A London office. New York office. You could break it down by department location, permission settings, approval flows, automate the entire experience and just free up your time. You shouldn't be wasting your time on swag. So we want to really streamline the entire experience for everybody we know.


Chris Byers: You're beginning to talk about something that I think is is really important. And it's really how does the user experience impact not only your ability as a business owner, founder, CEO, grow the business, but as a way to kind of give people an easy way to get the job done? I can't tell you how much I see where user experience just completely blocks kind of a company's ability to grow and kind of serve their customers because... It doesn't even have to be hard stuff. It can be things that are just like tedious and that extra few seconds. But every day, like, it'll tax you over time and eventually causes you to to not want to buy or not want to use the product. And there's almost probably a granular in the weeds thing that you're talking about that not everybody always realizes they need to do. Sometimes as a CEO, you kind of think, oh, I cast vision and all that, but at times you do need to kind of get into the weeds. How do you think about that?


Jeremy Parker: One hundred percent. I mean, when we started this business, I was not only CEO, I was head of product, I was head intern, I was head deliveryman. You have to do everything, especially at the very beginning. You have very limited resources. I'll tell you the story of when we started. So our first customer ever was Facebook, which sounds crazy to think that your first customer is such a big company, but that was by design. When we started the business, we realized we had this amazing Swag.com brand name, which took us about nine months to get. And we had no website and we frankly didn't know exactly the right experience to build. My experience in promotional products, fourteen years ago, things were very fragmented, stale, and broken, but it changed a little bit. And I wanted to do the first year just kind of a deep dive on who the customer really is and understand what product we should actually be building. So we were traveling salesman and I would knock on doors and would go to big offices and I would look at, reach out to all my LinkedIn friends and see where they worked and even if they didn't buy swag, but just try to get into the office. This is really what we did for Facebook. We got into the office through a friend and we walked up and down the hallways just meeting people and speaking to people until somebody want to buy something from us, and it didn't matter about how much money we were going to make, it was just trying to learn from the customer and get those row of logos, that social proof.

The second day I went to work and when they asked us who else we work with, I said Facebook. And they probably assume we work with thousands of other customers. But really, it was their second day of sales. And we work just with Facebook and we repeat that cycle to get that row of logos of blue chip companies. Really do the unscalable things. In the beginning, you have to do everything. It's unscalable. We had no platform, but then we learned as much as we could that first year, built this automated ecommerce experience and really grew it, you know, going from 350,000 the first year to 1.1 million through the ecommerce site, the second year to 3.1 million to 6.9 million, consistently growing. And what's interesting is this year is the first year we're going to break 10 million in sales in the pandemic, but the first year we ever hired a salesperson, all of our sales came completely inbound, no outbound whatsoever. And we had two customer service reps handling all those orders. So our entire vision from the very beginning was there's so much friction, there's so many roadblocks, so many hurdles that people have to do. Traditionally with selling of these promotional products, how can we streamline everything, whether it's our end of how to process orders to make our jobs a lot easier so we could scale infinitely amount like we could go from 500,000 dollars a month to three million dollars another month and have the same exact team. How many sales can we actually convert with like a two person team? And that's what we've been trying to do, keep it as super lean as possible, but really allow ourselves to grow. And what's exciting is, you know, in March when the pandemic hit, we were doing about 350,000 in sales. And now last month we did about 2 million in sales and we have pretty much the same exact team. So it just shows that we're able to grow now and scale and automate the experience of not only customers, but for our team to process more orders. But you have to start from from ground one. You're not going to have that process from the day one. So you have to learn as much as possible and you have to be OK doing those hard chores or the things that maybe doesn't sound fun or sexy or exciting. You have to, you know, roll up your sleeves.


Chris Byers: That is truly great to hear how you've thought about that. I'm curious, you've obviously at this point experienced in business a couple of major either recessions or like that, even whether it's a blip or something, recession or whatever, this year. How have you been able to kind of navigate through that? And how have you approached when you've seen those moments coming?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, it's hard. It's not I'm not going to say it was easy or I had the answer. You know, when the pandemic hit, it really hurt our business. It hurt our whole industry. The whole promotional product industry is down upwards of 44% this year versus last year. And it makes sense on the surface.

You know, we had the HR manager for a company buying swag for internal use to give to onboarding of new hires. And no one's hiring right now or you have the marketing team buying for trade shows. There are no trade shows going on. Or you're the office manager buying for the swag office or company culture in the office and no one's in the office. So on the surface, when you're faced with that and you go from 200,000 dollars the first week of March and sales of 19,000 the second week, you really have to do an internal gut check and say, what do we have that could win in this space? Like how how can we adapt? And we've done a lot of things and we threw a lot of things at the wall and some things worked and some things really didn't work.

You know, we were the first ones that I know of to start really selling masks. And right when it came out selling blank masks, it was actually the only product we ever sold on our site that you didn't have to upload your logo on. Our site is all about customization, and we started offering just masks. A lot of our suppliers, you know, repurpose their facilities to make masks. And we felt like we have this huge database and infrastructure of suppliers that we could really be of help. So we launched this mask program for every 100 masks that are bought, We donate 10 to people in need, you know, front line workers, homeless shelters, different people who we can help because we knew a lot of people were very nervous and didn't have, you know, the supply chain that we had. And we donated over 4,000 masks during that period of time. And that honestly was great because we felt like we're giving back and we're helping humanity and just people as a whole. But also it actually kept the business afloat. Now, we were growing then, but it allowed us to not have to lay off a lot of our team members, you know, to keep the team as intact, which is very important for us as our team is our family. So it's really important that we did everything we possibly could to make it through it. And then ultimately we ended up allowing this to really grow in the last five months have been the best five months we've ever done as the swag distribution platform.

We really got a feeling as we were building this platform about two years ago where we saw the transition to work from home. Now, we never thought a pandemic with it. We never thought it would take off like this. And hopefully the world gets back on track sometime soon. But we were building a platform for this work from home where people may not, we felt like they may not have to go to a trade show or they didn't want to go to the office every day. How can we build a simple process for people to be able to distribute swag, send it to remote addresses? Whether they want to send it to one address at a time or thousands at a time, we should build the platform to allow them to do that. So we've been building this process for two years and when this pandemic hit, we really had to reposition it because it was structured and formatted for a marketing team and sales teams, and we really had to kind of redevelop how we sell the platform to engage with the office manager and how they engage the remote employees to keep the company culture thriving even when no one's in the office. So there's a lot of transition and a lot of moving parts, but ultimately it ends up working for us and it's a constant grind. You know, hopefully we'll be able to keep this momentum up and keep helping our customers and allowing them to do business in such a strange time for everyone.


Chris Byers: So one of the things you touched on a couple of times there was this idea of impact, whether that's impact of making sure our organization still has the cash to pay for people's salaries and keep them going, but also opportunities to kind of give back. How do you think about what impact needs to look like from a business and how you go about it?


Jeremy Parker: It's interesting. I mean, I think we just want to sleep well at night. You want to have a feeling when you're in the office that's not just business. You know, obviously the business has to succeed and we want it to succeed for everyone within the company because that will allow people to have a great job and have longevity in their career. But it also needs to feel right. So whenever we're approaching anything, we always think, is this the right thing to do or can we help in any way?

From the very beginning of our business, we launched a program called Swag Swap. It was literally at the top even before we had a website built, we had a landing page and we had this this little link in the bottom that said Swag Swap. So our program, basically the whole idea is you buy swag from other companies or you have old swag in your closet. If you donate that swag to people in need, we'll give you a discount on new swag through us. And we baked it into the core principles of our business of how to give back even the entire process of being super curated and only offering the best and highest quality products is because, frankly, it's upsetting to see tons of things being wasted from companies and then thrown in the trash. It doesn't do the company any good. It costs the company money. It tarnishes the brand. It's not great for the environment.

So we felt like we need to change how people think of swag. It needs to be all about high quality. It's the only way this is going to work. It's they only way it's sustainable. So we're really trying to focus on quality products from the get go. It's in our DNA. And then whenever something arises where there's a challenge, we're constantly thinking, well, can we add and try to help the world in any way, in a small way? No, we're not moving the needle in such a massive way. We're still a small startup. But anything you could possibly do that I think benefits you, whether it's your team members or your customers or your community as a whole, you should strive for.


Chris Byers: So some people who are listening are probably earlier on in their career or they're running their first business. How has that changed over time and running more than one business? How is your kind of philosophy, let's say, on having an impact and being conscientious about the world changed?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know if it has changed. I think the bigger our business gets, the bigger impact theoretically you could have. But how I grew up, I was always around charity. So following my parents and being brought to different places to see the meaning, like what's important in this world is to give back, that's a big portion. Obviously, we're not a charity, we're a business, we're a startup, so our intention is to make money. But I think you can give back, you can do good things even when you do have a business and even, you know, it's not like one or the other or corporations are bad or this, like you can have a successful business. And as a business person, it's important that we make money as the first thing that we focus on. But as you get bigger, you always have a way to make a bigger impact. And I think now as we're scaling, we're hopefully going to be able to continue that, hopefully be able to hire more people, hopefully make that experience really great for our team members and really take care of them and their families and really just have them in mind. I think just constantly having your team in mind, constantly having your customers in mind and your community in mind, I think makes a better business as well.


Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit more about those experiences, that kind of maybe as you were growing up, that have informed the way you do think about having an impact.


Jeremy Parker: When I was much younger, like 11 years old, I went with my family to Israel and we went to this orphanage in Netanya in Israel. And I saw all these kids. There's hundreds of kids who didn't have a great family life who are living in this orphanage. And I went to all the different rooms. I remember I was around their age at the time. Some were a little older, some a little younger. And we became friends. I was running around with them and playing soccer with them all day. And I went to the room just to see where they were sleeping and where they're living. And I noticed that they didn't have any toys. And for me, it's such a small thing. Right. You're a kid, and I realize none of these kids had toys in the room. So I brought up to my parents and I said, you know what would be really great? My bar mitzvah, you get a bar mitzvah when you're thirteen, I said, it would be really great if I can raise money for these children and just donate. I didn't know it would turn into, just maybe raise a little bit of money and donate and buy some toys for these kids and give it to the orphanage and they could give it to the kids on their birthday or for holidays, etc.. So I launched with a friend of mine, my backyard. Remember this very vividly. We launched a carnival and it was like a small carnival with the water balloon fights and stuff like that. And we raised about a thousand dollars from the community and we ended up buying toys and we sent it to Israel. And what they did was, which is amazing, they set up a room, a small closet, like a really small closet that was called the Jeremy Parker Toy Room, right, and they put the toys in there, and then when other donors and other people came to visit this facility, this orphanage, they saw that Jeremy Parker toy room and they wanted to donate. And now it's been, I'm 35 now, so what, 22 years since then. And I visited them several times. They have this toy room. It's always been stocked and you realize just a small idea and the impact it could have on people's lives. So from very early on I realized that and kind of taking it to business. Now, obviously, I'm not running a charity, but you do constantly, always think of you know, how can you help people? I think it's just the basic instinct of how to help people. And I think if you think that way, you're going to be the best CEO you possibly could be because you're going to put yourself in situations of the people you need who are doing this with you, your team members, thinking about what they're going through, this pandemic. They're all working remotely. They're all scared. You know, everyone is nervous and trying to do whatever you can to make people as a whole, whoever you work with, have the best possible experience.


Chris Byers: Yeah, I think often in leadership, even as leaders, we often look to other people for the answer or look to other people for like what's the government going to do? What's somebody else going to do? And I love this idea that you're talking about, which is really we're the ones who can make a difference. And we can and we can make decisions. We can spend time with people to really encourage them and help them work through all the challenges that are going on right now. And I think we sometimes as leaders also think that it's business first and such. And we're not out to your point, doing charity work, but having an impact on people's lives is vital and important. Well, when we kind of take a step back and think about this year, just think about crafting a great business. We've been talking about this idea of reimagining your world of work. So what does it mean to you when I say that? What does it mean to reimagine work?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know. I say I'm constantly thinking about that and how the world will change and how it has changed already and how I don't know if it will ever go back to what it was. We have our office in New York City. We haven't got rid of it. We just actually got it. Three months before the pandemic on a three year lease, we have one or two people go into the office every day. We have a team of 26 in New York and people are scared. So I don't know. I'm not going to ever force them to go back in the office until there's a vaccine, until people feel safe. So we have been able to work remotely and it's been actually we've been able to to manage it.

I love working in the office. I love the creativity of the office. You're by the watercooler, you go to the kitchen and you just bump into somebody you might not ever really talk to, you know I'm the CEO so I'm dealing a lot with the executives. And you might not talk to every single person in the company at all times, but just being able to see people's face, have a conversation, you know, something sparks an idea and then it leads down the rabbit hole. Then you book a conference room and now you're speaking about something your never thought about speaking about for three hours. And that happens. And that stuff is really exciting. I love that. I love that creativity in that environment. And we're missing that. I've been trying to keep it as much as possible. It's not easy. And what I've been doing personally is I message different team members, unannounced, unscheduled, and just start talking to them. And the conversation could be a minute. It could be five minutes, could be half an hour. But try to get people to feel more connected, try to replicate that office environment and the office feel.

And I think a lot of people are going through this where they're not sure what's going to happen in the future. They may do partially back in the office, you know, maybe all remote. And I think we just have to be constantly adapting and looking at how the market reacts. That's really it. Just looking how our customers and our customers are office managers, HR managers, how are they doing business. And we have to make our service useful for them. Our whole business is trying to make their lives a lot easier. So right now it's a wide distribution platform. This is saving people a ton of time instead of having to ship products to their office or now to their home, packaged things up themselves and they go to the UPS store and ship it all over the place. We handle everything for them. Instead of having an office manager or somebody is launching a virtual event, have to gather everyone's address. Who's attending that event? We've built solutions that allow people to capture that information with t-shirt size the recipient is and try to humanize virtual events through a platform. But as the world changes and continues to shift, we'll constantly have to have our finger on the pulse and constantly keep developing and making the experience better for all of our customers.


Chris Byers: As you think about working at home more often, one of the things that means is that less and less people get to see what you're doing everyday. How does your personal life even play out at work? Tell us about a day in your life? What does that look like?


Jeremy Parker: So now I just actually had a baby, my first child in July, so it's a lot of stuff going on during this pandemic. I ended up ultimately moving with my wife and my child into my parents house, because New York City at the onset of the pandemic was very scary, it wasn't a place that we wanted to be. So we left for a couple of months, ultimately moved back to the city, had the baby. Now we're living back in Jersey in our own place, we're getting used to this new, this new normal. I'm waking up a lot earlier. I have the baby still in my room. I take about an hour to an hour and a half walk or run every single morning trying to clear my head, get into the office eight thirty nine o'clock and do all my calls, have my lead designers based in London. So I do an hour design call with them every morning. Our tech team is based in Ukraine. They're seven hours ahead. So I do an hour tech call with our CTO who's based in Ukraine. I do those two calls because for me that's my passion, it's what I'm most interested in is the product, the user experience, what features we need to build, how to solve problems, constantly talking to our customer success team and our team and trying to understand because they really have the best finger on the pulse at this point.

You know, four years ago, five years ago, when we started the business, I knew exactly what our customers wanted because I was the one talking to our customers on a daily basis. Now it's we have a team doing that. And it's very important that I'm always in the loop in understanding what features we don't have or what we can make better or what's not clear to trying to really understand that through our customer successes and our operations is to make the backend work simpler for them to process more. So we don't have to throw people at problems, which a lot of companies do, and we could streamline it and make it automated and simple. So keep the team super lean, but do five, 10 times the work that we're currently doing and that's our goal.

But then really taking that information from our team and learning from our team as much as we can and bringing and trying to manage the process with the user experience in design. And in the second half of the day, it's like every other CEO's job, managing issues, problem solving, talking to potential partners, thinking outside the box and trying to come up with long term solutions, fundraising, etc.. So it's busy, and it feels it's even gotten busier since we've been home because it feels like there is no break, really. So it's constant and it might not be healthy, but it's what needs to happen during this kind of changing time. I think for right now, especially for our business, we've been growing tremendously fast, you know, going from 350,000 a month in March to two million, approximately two million last month and the month before, 1.4 million, which is the first time we ever broke a million the previous month before that was 992,000. So really scaling up, really growing and having the exact same team that's doing it. So a lot of challenges come up with a lot of problems. And that's what we're excited about. We love when challenges happen because it means we're on the right path and now we're doing something is difficult and it means that we're doing something that it was difficult for other people. They're not doing it. We should be the ones doing it and really trying to streamline our entire experience.


Chris Byers: I think you're right that there's so much I think everybody is experiencing right now the odd feeling of like I'm at home, I'm out doing things less, but somehow I feel like I'm working more or I'm busier than ever. And so I do think those things like you suggested or are doing yourself, getting out and and running or walking or whatever for an hour like those are those are really good practices to help keep our minds kind of focused and keep us from being one hundred percent work all the time, because that can definitely be taxing. You know, we talk about creating a digitally agile workforce and you obviously use technology all day, every day to accomplish what you're doing. Tell us about that technology. What are you doing to kind of stay competitive, stay ahead of the competition?


Jeremy Parker: Yes. So everything on our site is pretty much fully custom. So we're constantly not really looking at our competitors. Honestly, I didn't look at any of our competitors until year two because I didn't want to be led in a certain way that maybe they were doing something. And I would probably have to believe that they're doing it because it's the right way to do it. So we took a really kind of a simple approach, like don't even look at our competitors for the first version of the platform. Let's just talk to our customers and design a platform that we would think makes the most sense really from the ground up. So that's what we did. And I think it's allowed us to think of the whole industry a little bit different than everyone else is thinking of it. So that's been really great.

But then you kind of start layering different features and different functionality. So we've added Intercom, which has been probably our best tool that we use to engage with our customers. All of our customers are inbound and a lot of our customers check out without speaking to anybody, which is awesome. And a lot of our customers need to ask questions, which is totally great. It's like, is this product going to come out in time? Is it going to look perfect? You know, they want to feel confident before they check out with a large order, especially if they're buying it on behalf of their company. A lot's on the line. So having Intercom has been an incredibly vital tool for us to really engage with our customers in real time, answer their questions and get them to feel confident with ordering.

Obviously all the backend features, backend platforms like HubSpot and Marketo really trying to automate the marketing because our team is very limited. How do you engage with your best customers? How do you convert them and give them a great experience, so trying to just use as many tools, that doesn't make sense for us to build and all the things that are proprietary to us that is unique to us, that we want to own everything. So really trying to focus and build that right platform from day one and constantly listen to our customers as much as possible and constantly keep building and building, building so we chip away at it all like a blocking and tackling set. You get to a point where things are going to be really challenging and then when it's really challenging, you make it better and then there could be other challenges. So it's never going to be an end. And as long as you keep trying to innovate and push forward and do things that other people are not doing or do things that really makes sense for your customers, it's never going to get easy. But that's what I love about it. That's why we're in this business, to challenge ourselves and to grow and to build something better than what's out there.


Chris Byers: I think you've got some advice in there that sounds really interesting. And it sounds like there's times where it's valuable to go explore, like what's someone else in the world doing and maybe you want to repeat that. So what's everybody else doing for marketing automation? Let me go get some HubSpot. But then there's times where it sounds like you're saying it's actually smarter to not observe what else is going on in the world, but maybe simply sit and experience your problem, try to understand your problem and solve it in the way that you think is right. Can you describe that a little bit more?


Jeremy Parker: That's 100 percent right. In the very beginning of the business, I was doing a little bit of research before I really stopped myself. And you start to look at what else is out there. And at some point I was designing like a rabbit hole. I was designing the wrong experience and I knew it was the wrong experience. I was basing it on other customers and trying to make their experience better. And I kept finding myself like, why do I even have to do that? Like, shouldn't you be thinking about the big picture of if I was a customer and I landed on a promotional product site, what would I want the experience to be? And I didn't really know the answer to that. So I figured let me just speak to as many customers as possible and don't have this preconceived idea of what the right idea is. I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, you always either think you need to have the right idea from day one, which is not true, or that you have to feel that ego that it has to be my idea, which is not true.

I think as an entrepreneur and starting a business, you have to be totally OK with other people's opinion. You might not like the opinions. You might not have to agree with opinions, but you should be super open to it and you can't be fearful of starting something even if you had no idea. And I always say to friends of mine who are nervous, I don't have the right idea or is it going to work or not. If you really, truly believe that you're going to ultimately get the right idea, then just go out there, because it's never going to be what you expected from day one. You know, in a lot of times, fear kills more dreams than failure ever could. A lot of people are just scared of doing something, scared of putting themselves out there, scared of internally their mind, the people thinking of them as a failure. But if you can remove that fear, anything is possible. You're unlimited, it's like a superpower. Like if you're OK failing and you're learning and, you know, ultimately you're going to fail a thousand times, but you believe in yourself and you believe that you make it better and eventually you will succeed. It's a superpower. You're unstoppable. So I like to think I try to get into that mentality always and totally be OK with it. And even a lot of employees who are this is the first time they've ever joined a startup. And it was hard to break them out of their their notion of, oh, something's going wrong, things are really bad. It's OK if things go wrong, as long as you solve it. No one expects you to be one hundred percent perfect from day one. We're a startup, we're growing, we're learning. But as long as we constantly do our best effort, chip away at the problems, keep building as more problems arise, figure out a solution and fix it. You know, we're five years old. We're still having tons of issues, but we have a lot less issues now than we did a year ago. And we have different issues now. And then five months from now, we'll have a lot less issues than we had now and there'll be other issues. So it's just constantly being OK with that failure, in that case being, you know, it's all for a greater purpose.


Chris Byers: You know, I think that's wonderful advice. It was actually Joel Sapolsky who really opened my eyes. I was six months into the job and I took it over from our founder and a good friend of mine. But I was trying to run the business for a long time thinking like, oh, what would he do? Because it's been successful so far because he's been here. And Joel talked about this idea where he had the exact same experience with stock exchange. And at some point he was like, oh, this has to be my vision. And what that means is if it's my vision that I may fall flat on my face tomorrow, but that's the only way I can know how to actually go forward, because I know I am motivated. I know why I want to solve the problem. And I can't tell you how many times I've had to come back to this idea that I can't worry about what other people's expectations are or what I think the next smarter CEO might do in this case. I've got to say, I'm going to own this problem. And if I fail tomorrow, well, at least I know why I failed and why I chose to to make the decisions. I love that thinking.


Jeremy Parker: You have to think that way. And it's really I think for me, it's I'm lucky. I feel very lucky. I got to a place where I'm totally OK with failure. And I think once you get to that mentality, then I'm OK with failure ultimately, but I'm OK failing on a daily basis because. I feel like when you're failing more, the more you fail, the further you're getting to ultimately get to the right place and with the right solution is so it's totally ok. It's just a part of the process. And as long as you know it's part of the process, then nothing could derail you.


Chris Byers: I think that's so applicable not just to leaders or the senior leader of an organization, but to leaders all across the organization. The moment you are willing to say, I'm going to do something and take enough risk and I'm OK failing, that's the moment you're really going to move forward. If you're always just trying to think, what are the rules, what are the best way to do this that I think somebody else wants me to do, it's always going to hold you back. So I think it's wonderful advice. As we kind of begin to wrap up the conversation, we've talked about this idea that really can be overwhelming in some ways. And I'm curious, where do you think people should start when they think about starting a business or how do they get just going and take those first steps?


Jeremy Parker: Find an industry that you're passionate about. You don't have to have the right solution, but find something that you're passionate about. Because what's going to happen is if you ever get hit in the face and at startups, you are going to get smacked in the face thousands of times on a daily basis. A lot of people I've seen start businesses. And then the first issue, they pack it up and they're over it. For a business to succeed, it's going to take many, many years. Whatever you're doing, you're going to be in it for many, many years until you get to that successful outcome that you'll ultimately want. Or it could be forever. Could be your whole life depends on really what you want to do with it. So I think really find the industry that you're super passionate about and then just be OK with not knowing what the right answer is. You know, be OK with learning, be open minded, start to talk to all customers. Your idea from day one might completely change on the second week or the third week, and it might pivot in the third year like things are constantly going to be evolving and changing and just be open minded to maybe not knowing what the right answer is. But as long as you feel like you're on the path or you're eager to find the right answer, you're going to find it. You're going to figure it out. You know, it's never over until it's over. It's unlimited what you could possibly do. So I would just say, put yourself out there. Don't be scared of failure. Try to learn as much as possible and constantly move and pivot as much as you can until you get to a place where it's right.


Chris Byers: Well, I've got a handful of kind of rapid fire questions to kind of end up on. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity in your business processes?


Jeremy Parker: Simplicity. I always think, I don't know if it's simplicity, but I always think of consistency. I think a lot of people in this world are not necessarily consistent. As long as you're consistent and you're working really hard and you're working towards a problem and trying to figure out a solution every single day. And you might have great days and you might have really bad days. But as long as you're consistent more days than you're not consistent, you'll ultimately get to the place where you want to be. So trying to simplify it, trying to be really focused on what the main goal is, you know, not get distracted by too many things, really try to say what's the ultimate goal? What's my North Star, as they say, and really trying to be laser focused on that and consistently laser focus on it until you get it to be really right.


Chris Byers: And tell us, what's your go to productivity tip is.


Jeremy Parker: For me, it's honestly running. I run in the morning, I have to clear my head. It allows me to be way more productive throughout the day. I think if I just started the day and went into the office, my head will be all over the place. So I think having a clear mind going into it, really think from like the bird's eye view every single day and kind of resetting yourself and try to understand what the main objectives are. And what I do is once I get into the office before I even open on my computer, before I talk to anybody, I write down all the ideas I've been thinking about on that run to make sure I don't forget it and try to organize my day in some ways, like what's the big picture ideas and what's kind of more of the granular things. And I think just having a to do list, having a clear head and a to do list, you could constantly feel like you're checking things off the box and you start getting those early wins. It could be something very simple as just like you have a call with the tech team, you do every day. But being able to check it off the list makes you feel like you're accomplishing something and you're getting to your next phase. So building on wins, I think is very important.


Chris Byers: All right. And how will you be reimagining your work moving forward?


Jeremy Parker: We have a really good game plan for the next six months. Now, obviously, the world could change dramatically again. So we will have to always keep our finger on the pulse. But for us, it's really trying to focus on the distribution. We've really streamlined the entire experience of buying swag. Now it's about making the entire experience of distributing swag automated and simple and streamlined. And that means once we have this swag distribution platform really to where it needs to be and now we're about eighty five percent of where the ultimate vision of it is, then how do you automate the distribution? So, you know, integrating into HubSpot in Marketo and Salesforce or Justworks or HR solutions and allowing people to kind of set it and forget it. Like a person's birthday, be able to automatically send them swag, a person's five year anniversary, send them swag. Somebody hasn't responded to your email, press a button in Salesforce and sends them swag to kind of close the deal. Somebody fills out a form or attends one of your events through Marketo or HubSpot, it automatically triggers a notification to send them something. Try to figure out a process for people to buy swag up front once, say, in the programs, decide how they want and who should be getting stuff based on triggers and then just kind of let the magic happen and allow it to be super automated. So that's ultimately where our goal is and we're hoping to get to that place by middle of next year.


Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up this episode featuring Jeremy Parker, there's a handful of things that I just heard that I thought were really powerful. One is it's really important for you to find a problem that you care about. If you can find that problem, get focused on it, be consistent, spend time with it, you're going to get somewhere and you're going to solve some cool problems in the world. Have a willingness to fail and willingness to kind of learn from that and move on and keep moving toward success, but have those daily failures so you can get to the long term success. Find ways to clear your mind, whether it's running or something else that helps you get away from the day to day so your thoughts can actually get organized and get kind of cleaned up and you can get focused on what's really important.

Thank you for joining us for this episode and season, we'll be back next year with new guests, new topics, and even more ways to reimagine work. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to get new episodes when they drop, or head to formstack.com/podcasts to catch up on any episodes you missed.

Podcast

Jeremy Parker: How to Build an Impact-Focused Business

Podcast

Jeremy Parker: How to Build an Impact-Focused Business

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Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. And in this episode, we are talking with Jeremy Parker. He is the CEO and co-founder of Swag.com. It's an e-commerce platform for purchasing promotional materials.

Jeremy is passionate about creating a conscientious business, serving the best interest of his employees and customers. And in our conversation, we're going to dig into how he's built a responsible business model while experiencing exponential growth, particularly during a time where others in his industry are declining. How has he reimagined his work and Swag.com's ability to grow. Let's find out.

Jeremy, welcome to Ripple Effect.


Jeremy Parker: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.


Chris Byers: As we get started, I'd love to hear and love for you to share with our listeners your background. How did you get to Swag.com, what's some history there that got you to today?

Jeremy Parker: Yes, I started as a filmmaker. I went to Boston University. I was a documentary filmmaker. I really went to college specifically for marketing or so I thought. And when I went to BU and I was looking at the course curriculum, I looked at the film program and the marketing program, I realized that they were pretty much exactly the same thing except for film. I will learn how to make videos and tell stories through videos. And this is at the onset when YouTube is starting. And I figured that's the really the way to go. And during my time there, I created a feature length documentary called One Percent that ultimately ended up winning the audience award at the Vail Film Festival, a really big film festival. And I remember I was in Vail and after the awards ceremony and I go down to the celebrity or quote unquote celebrity brunch and half the room was celebrities and half the room were these these artists, struggling artists. And I realized I had to kind of do an internal gut check, do I want this to be my life? It was a very weird flight home, you know, going back to Boston, going back to to college where I was, had pretty much the highs of the high you could get to in this independent film world. But I really realized that this was not the path for me or wasn't what I truly loved and what I wanted to do.

So after college, I started my first company and I had no business experience whatsoever. So I thought, what business can I start that I could learn all the different aspects of business? So I thought starting a t-shirt company, I could learn how to build an e-commerce site and how to do the marketing and how to do production, manufacturing and all the different aspects of business. I did this for about two years; I launched it in 2007. So if you could remember 2007, this is when all the banks were going under. It was a really bad time, especially for really high end t-shirts. And we were selling two hundred t-shirts to different boutiques all around the world. And these boutiques just ended up closing a lot of them. And what we did was we started a marketing, kind of gimmicky now that I think about it, but at the time I tied the prices of our shirts to the price of the Dow Jones. So for every hundred points the Dow dropped, the customers would get a discount on the t-shirt price. And it's a little gimmicky, but it ended up getting picked up by Mark Cuban's blog, Blog Maverick, which got a lot of eyeballs and then ultimately got picked up by Ad Age, which ran the whole feature on the story and how we're able to pivot during this really difficult period of time. And it got on the radar of this guy, Eliot Peyser.

Eliot Peyser is the CEO of Weatherproof Garment Company. And I ended up meeting with Eliot and we became friends.  I would show up as office, you know, once a week for a period of time and just kind of spit ball ideas. He was a very creative guy and we were just throwing ideas against the wall. And they also owned another business called MV Sport. Now MV Sport is one of the largest players in the promotional product space. Now, I had no knowledge of this promotional product space. I had no clue what it was. I didn't know anything about it. This was around 2009 at the time. But being around Eliot and going to different events and trade shows with Eliot, I realized that it was kind of a missing piece in this industry. So I started a creative division under MV Sport really about twelve years ago, thirteen years ago at this point. And I learned a lot about the industry as a whole, who the buyer was, what the problems of the industry were. And then you fast forward 10 years. I've done a lot of different things from starting a company with my brother and Jesse Esler that ultimately ended up selling to a publicly traded company that was around social media influencers.

I found myself ultimately always constantly thinking about the swag space and how there hasn't really been a player that's reimagined it or innovated it at all. And the aha moment of starting Swag was the industries remain old, fragmented, and broken. But the buyer changed. And once I realized that the buyer is no longer this forty, fifty year old office manager and it's a millennial buyer. Well how do you build a platform really focus on today's buyer. So 2016, started Swag.com. We've grown five years in a row. We were just named the 218th fastest growing company on the Inc 500 in 2020. We have over five thousand customers from Facebook and Google and Amazon and Netflix and Spotify and TikTok to much smaller companies. And we're really trying to streamline the entire experience, making it really easy for customers to not only find what they're looking for, design it, and buy it in a matter of seconds, but also send it out and distribute it to all of their remote employees, all of their best customers, all of their leads. So a really robust swag management and distribution platform, all in one.


Chris Byers: Well, that is an amazing story and I love the gist. Well, the story of how you used the Dow Jones kind of going up and down to change pricing, like just love the unique kind of thinking there. And it's funny you made the point you didn't know how to start a business or you didn't know what starting a business was like. And yet I actually think that's probably what's giving you the freedom to build a great business is not having a bunch of rules that you were trying to follow, but rather, how do I just see a problem and go try to work against it and make make some impact? What do you think keeps you motivated to kind of continue to build businesses?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, I always think about this. A lot of people ask me that question. I'm constantly thinking about it. It's not to make money. I'm not really that kind of person who's like, I need to make more money, make it bigger and bigger. It's kind of an internal thing. You know, I see a problem and I want to fix it. I'm like, I'm a tinkerer, I'm more of a creative in that way of trying to see the big problem, how people are doing it and trying to do it in a different way. That, I think is the right way of making people's lives a lot easier. You know, swag, it seems like such a a non-sexy industry. No one really thinks to get into the promotional product space. Many people actually think of it as throwaway items. And I want to combat that because swag is such a powerful marketing tool if it's done right. And that's a big caveat. If it's done right, it needs to be high quality. People need to get it and actually want to keep it and they want to use it. And then it's really valuable. You know, you think of in general a lot of marketing initiatives. And you watch TV and you fast forward through commercials. Right. People are trained to avoid ads at all costs. You're browsing the internet and you put the ad blocker and and it blocks those ads, or you're looking through a magazine and you flip through the ads, you want to get to the content. People are programmatically set at this point to avoid ads at all costs. And with swag, what do you say when somebody gives you a really high quality piece of products or something you say thank you. It really does make an impact when you give them something that they're actually going to value.

So my entire business, it was from the very beginning, was really focused on, well, let's curate the best of what's out there. You know, I don't need to offer a thousand pens, a thousand notebooks. Let's curate. Let's make it really easy for customers to find what they're looking for and make sure that every single thing on our site is quality. But then who has time to look through these big catalogs and wasting paper and all these things that just doesn't make any sense. Let them streamline it. Let them find it. Upload their logo. Our system detects how many colors are in the logo. Click a button, checkout, click a button and send it to a thousand different addresses. I want it in the marketing closet or sales closet. A London office. New York office. You could break it down by department location, permission settings, approval flows, automate the entire experience and just free up your time. You shouldn't be wasting your time on swag. So we want to really streamline the entire experience for everybody we know.


Chris Byers: You're beginning to talk about something that I think is is really important. And it's really how does the user experience impact not only your ability as a business owner, founder, CEO, grow the business, but as a way to kind of give people an easy way to get the job done? I can't tell you how much I see where user experience just completely blocks kind of a company's ability to grow and kind of serve their customers because... It doesn't even have to be hard stuff. It can be things that are just like tedious and that extra few seconds. But every day, like, it'll tax you over time and eventually causes you to to not want to buy or not want to use the product. And there's almost probably a granular in the weeds thing that you're talking about that not everybody always realizes they need to do. Sometimes as a CEO, you kind of think, oh, I cast vision and all that, but at times you do need to kind of get into the weeds. How do you think about that?


Jeremy Parker: One hundred percent. I mean, when we started this business, I was not only CEO, I was head of product, I was head intern, I was head deliveryman. You have to do everything, especially at the very beginning. You have very limited resources. I'll tell you the story of when we started. So our first customer ever was Facebook, which sounds crazy to think that your first customer is such a big company, but that was by design. When we started the business, we realized we had this amazing Swag.com brand name, which took us about nine months to get. And we had no website and we frankly didn't know exactly the right experience to build. My experience in promotional products, fourteen years ago, things were very fragmented, stale, and broken, but it changed a little bit. And I wanted to do the first year just kind of a deep dive on who the customer really is and understand what product we should actually be building. So we were traveling salesman and I would knock on doors and would go to big offices and I would look at, reach out to all my LinkedIn friends and see where they worked and even if they didn't buy swag, but just try to get into the office. This is really what we did for Facebook. We got into the office through a friend and we walked up and down the hallways just meeting people and speaking to people until somebody want to buy something from us, and it didn't matter about how much money we were going to make, it was just trying to learn from the customer and get those row of logos, that social proof.

The second day I went to work and when they asked us who else we work with, I said Facebook. And they probably assume we work with thousands of other customers. But really, it was their second day of sales. And we work just with Facebook and we repeat that cycle to get that row of logos of blue chip companies. Really do the unscalable things. In the beginning, you have to do everything. It's unscalable. We had no platform, but then we learned as much as we could that first year, built this automated ecommerce experience and really grew it, you know, going from 350,000 the first year to 1.1 million through the ecommerce site, the second year to 3.1 million to 6.9 million, consistently growing. And what's interesting is this year is the first year we're going to break 10 million in sales in the pandemic, but the first year we ever hired a salesperson, all of our sales came completely inbound, no outbound whatsoever. And we had two customer service reps handling all those orders. So our entire vision from the very beginning was there's so much friction, there's so many roadblocks, so many hurdles that people have to do. Traditionally with selling of these promotional products, how can we streamline everything, whether it's our end of how to process orders to make our jobs a lot easier so we could scale infinitely amount like we could go from 500,000 dollars a month to three million dollars another month and have the same exact team. How many sales can we actually convert with like a two person team? And that's what we've been trying to do, keep it as super lean as possible, but really allow ourselves to grow. And what's exciting is, you know, in March when the pandemic hit, we were doing about 350,000 in sales. And now last month we did about 2 million in sales and we have pretty much the same exact team. So it just shows that we're able to grow now and scale and automate the experience of not only customers, but for our team to process more orders. But you have to start from from ground one. You're not going to have that process from the day one. So you have to learn as much as possible and you have to be OK doing those hard chores or the things that maybe doesn't sound fun or sexy or exciting. You have to, you know, roll up your sleeves.


Chris Byers: That is truly great to hear how you've thought about that. I'm curious, you've obviously at this point experienced in business a couple of major either recessions or like that, even whether it's a blip or something, recession or whatever, this year. How have you been able to kind of navigate through that? And how have you approached when you've seen those moments coming?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, it's hard. It's not I'm not going to say it was easy or I had the answer. You know, when the pandemic hit, it really hurt our business. It hurt our whole industry. The whole promotional product industry is down upwards of 44% this year versus last year. And it makes sense on the surface.

You know, we had the HR manager for a company buying swag for internal use to give to onboarding of new hires. And no one's hiring right now or you have the marketing team buying for trade shows. There are no trade shows going on. Or you're the office manager buying for the swag office or company culture in the office and no one's in the office. So on the surface, when you're faced with that and you go from 200,000 dollars the first week of March and sales of 19,000 the second week, you really have to do an internal gut check and say, what do we have that could win in this space? Like how how can we adapt? And we've done a lot of things and we threw a lot of things at the wall and some things worked and some things really didn't work.

You know, we were the first ones that I know of to start really selling masks. And right when it came out selling blank masks, it was actually the only product we ever sold on our site that you didn't have to upload your logo on. Our site is all about customization, and we started offering just masks. A lot of our suppliers, you know, repurpose their facilities to make masks. And we felt like we have this huge database and infrastructure of suppliers that we could really be of help. So we launched this mask program for every 100 masks that are bought, We donate 10 to people in need, you know, front line workers, homeless shelters, different people who we can help because we knew a lot of people were very nervous and didn't have, you know, the supply chain that we had. And we donated over 4,000 masks during that period of time. And that honestly was great because we felt like we're giving back and we're helping humanity and just people as a whole. But also it actually kept the business afloat. Now, we were growing then, but it allowed us to not have to lay off a lot of our team members, you know, to keep the team as intact, which is very important for us as our team is our family. So it's really important that we did everything we possibly could to make it through it. And then ultimately we ended up allowing this to really grow in the last five months have been the best five months we've ever done as the swag distribution platform.

We really got a feeling as we were building this platform about two years ago where we saw the transition to work from home. Now, we never thought a pandemic with it. We never thought it would take off like this. And hopefully the world gets back on track sometime soon. But we were building a platform for this work from home where people may not, we felt like they may not have to go to a trade show or they didn't want to go to the office every day. How can we build a simple process for people to be able to distribute swag, send it to remote addresses? Whether they want to send it to one address at a time or thousands at a time, we should build the platform to allow them to do that. So we've been building this process for two years and when this pandemic hit, we really had to reposition it because it was structured and formatted for a marketing team and sales teams, and we really had to kind of redevelop how we sell the platform to engage with the office manager and how they engage the remote employees to keep the company culture thriving even when no one's in the office. So there's a lot of transition and a lot of moving parts, but ultimately it ends up working for us and it's a constant grind. You know, hopefully we'll be able to keep this momentum up and keep helping our customers and allowing them to do business in such a strange time for everyone.


Chris Byers: So one of the things you touched on a couple of times there was this idea of impact, whether that's impact of making sure our organization still has the cash to pay for people's salaries and keep them going, but also opportunities to kind of give back. How do you think about what impact needs to look like from a business and how you go about it?


Jeremy Parker: It's interesting. I mean, I think we just want to sleep well at night. You want to have a feeling when you're in the office that's not just business. You know, obviously the business has to succeed and we want it to succeed for everyone within the company because that will allow people to have a great job and have longevity in their career. But it also needs to feel right. So whenever we're approaching anything, we always think, is this the right thing to do or can we help in any way?

From the very beginning of our business, we launched a program called Swag Swap. It was literally at the top even before we had a website built, we had a landing page and we had this this little link in the bottom that said Swag Swap. So our program, basically the whole idea is you buy swag from other companies or you have old swag in your closet. If you donate that swag to people in need, we'll give you a discount on new swag through us. And we baked it into the core principles of our business of how to give back even the entire process of being super curated and only offering the best and highest quality products is because, frankly, it's upsetting to see tons of things being wasted from companies and then thrown in the trash. It doesn't do the company any good. It costs the company money. It tarnishes the brand. It's not great for the environment.

So we felt like we need to change how people think of swag. It needs to be all about high quality. It's the only way this is going to work. It's they only way it's sustainable. So we're really trying to focus on quality products from the get go. It's in our DNA. And then whenever something arises where there's a challenge, we're constantly thinking, well, can we add and try to help the world in any way, in a small way? No, we're not moving the needle in such a massive way. We're still a small startup. But anything you could possibly do that I think benefits you, whether it's your team members or your customers or your community as a whole, you should strive for.


Chris Byers: So some people who are listening are probably earlier on in their career or they're running their first business. How has that changed over time and running more than one business? How is your kind of philosophy, let's say, on having an impact and being conscientious about the world changed?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know if it has changed. I think the bigger our business gets, the bigger impact theoretically you could have. But how I grew up, I was always around charity. So following my parents and being brought to different places to see the meaning, like what's important in this world is to give back, that's a big portion. Obviously, we're not a charity, we're a business, we're a startup, so our intention is to make money. But I think you can give back, you can do good things even when you do have a business and even, you know, it's not like one or the other or corporations are bad or this, like you can have a successful business. And as a business person, it's important that we make money as the first thing that we focus on. But as you get bigger, you always have a way to make a bigger impact. And I think now as we're scaling, we're hopefully going to be able to continue that, hopefully be able to hire more people, hopefully make that experience really great for our team members and really take care of them and their families and really just have them in mind. I think just constantly having your team in mind, constantly having your customers in mind and your community in mind, I think makes a better business as well.


Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit more about those experiences, that kind of maybe as you were growing up, that have informed the way you do think about having an impact.


Jeremy Parker: When I was much younger, like 11 years old, I went with my family to Israel and we went to this orphanage in Netanya in Israel. And I saw all these kids. There's hundreds of kids who didn't have a great family life who are living in this orphanage. And I went to all the different rooms. I remember I was around their age at the time. Some were a little older, some a little younger. And we became friends. I was running around with them and playing soccer with them all day. And I went to the room just to see where they were sleeping and where they're living. And I noticed that they didn't have any toys. And for me, it's such a small thing. Right. You're a kid, and I realize none of these kids had toys in the room. So I brought up to my parents and I said, you know what would be really great? My bar mitzvah, you get a bar mitzvah when you're thirteen, I said, it would be really great if I can raise money for these children and just donate. I didn't know it would turn into, just maybe raise a little bit of money and donate and buy some toys for these kids and give it to the orphanage and they could give it to the kids on their birthday or for holidays, etc.. So I launched with a friend of mine, my backyard. Remember this very vividly. We launched a carnival and it was like a small carnival with the water balloon fights and stuff like that. And we raised about a thousand dollars from the community and we ended up buying toys and we sent it to Israel. And what they did was, which is amazing, they set up a room, a small closet, like a really small closet that was called the Jeremy Parker Toy Room, right, and they put the toys in there, and then when other donors and other people came to visit this facility, this orphanage, they saw that Jeremy Parker toy room and they wanted to donate. And now it's been, I'm 35 now, so what, 22 years since then. And I visited them several times. They have this toy room. It's always been stocked and you realize just a small idea and the impact it could have on people's lives. So from very early on I realized that and kind of taking it to business. Now, obviously, I'm not running a charity, but you do constantly, always think of you know, how can you help people? I think it's just the basic instinct of how to help people. And I think if you think that way, you're going to be the best CEO you possibly could be because you're going to put yourself in situations of the people you need who are doing this with you, your team members, thinking about what they're going through, this pandemic. They're all working remotely. They're all scared. You know, everyone is nervous and trying to do whatever you can to make people as a whole, whoever you work with, have the best possible experience.


Chris Byers: Yeah, I think often in leadership, even as leaders, we often look to other people for the answer or look to other people for like what's the government going to do? What's somebody else going to do? And I love this idea that you're talking about, which is really we're the ones who can make a difference. And we can and we can make decisions. We can spend time with people to really encourage them and help them work through all the challenges that are going on right now. And I think we sometimes as leaders also think that it's business first and such. And we're not out to your point, doing charity work, but having an impact on people's lives is vital and important. Well, when we kind of take a step back and think about this year, just think about crafting a great business. We've been talking about this idea of reimagining your world of work. So what does it mean to you when I say that? What does it mean to reimagine work?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know. I say I'm constantly thinking about that and how the world will change and how it has changed already and how I don't know if it will ever go back to what it was. We have our office in New York City. We haven't got rid of it. We just actually got it. Three months before the pandemic on a three year lease, we have one or two people go into the office every day. We have a team of 26 in New York and people are scared. So I don't know. I'm not going to ever force them to go back in the office until there's a vaccine, until people feel safe. So we have been able to work remotely and it's been actually we've been able to to manage it.

I love working in the office. I love the creativity of the office. You're by the watercooler, you go to the kitchen and you just bump into somebody you might not ever really talk to, you know I'm the CEO so I'm dealing a lot with the executives. And you might not talk to every single person in the company at all times, but just being able to see people's face, have a conversation, you know, something sparks an idea and then it leads down the rabbit hole. Then you book a conference room and now you're speaking about something your never thought about speaking about for three hours. And that happens. And that stuff is really exciting. I love that. I love that creativity in that environment. And we're missing that. I've been trying to keep it as much as possible. It's not easy. And what I've been doing personally is I message different team members, unannounced, unscheduled, and just start talking to them. And the conversation could be a minute. It could be five minutes, could be half an hour. But try to get people to feel more connected, try to replicate that office environment and the office feel.

And I think a lot of people are going through this where they're not sure what's going to happen in the future. They may do partially back in the office, you know, maybe all remote. And I think we just have to be constantly adapting and looking at how the market reacts. That's really it. Just looking how our customers and our customers are office managers, HR managers, how are they doing business. And we have to make our service useful for them. Our whole business is trying to make their lives a lot easier. So right now it's a wide distribution platform. This is saving people a ton of time instead of having to ship products to their office or now to their home, packaged things up themselves and they go to the UPS store and ship it all over the place. We handle everything for them. Instead of having an office manager or somebody is launching a virtual event, have to gather everyone's address. Who's attending that event? We've built solutions that allow people to capture that information with t-shirt size the recipient is and try to humanize virtual events through a platform. But as the world changes and continues to shift, we'll constantly have to have our finger on the pulse and constantly keep developing and making the experience better for all of our customers.


Chris Byers: As you think about working at home more often, one of the things that means is that less and less people get to see what you're doing everyday. How does your personal life even play out at work? Tell us about a day in your life? What does that look like?


Jeremy Parker: So now I just actually had a baby, my first child in July, so it's a lot of stuff going on during this pandemic. I ended up ultimately moving with my wife and my child into my parents house, because New York City at the onset of the pandemic was very scary, it wasn't a place that we wanted to be. So we left for a couple of months, ultimately moved back to the city, had the baby. Now we're living back in Jersey in our own place, we're getting used to this new, this new normal. I'm waking up a lot earlier. I have the baby still in my room. I take about an hour to an hour and a half walk or run every single morning trying to clear my head, get into the office eight thirty nine o'clock and do all my calls, have my lead designers based in London. So I do an hour design call with them every morning. Our tech team is based in Ukraine. They're seven hours ahead. So I do an hour tech call with our CTO who's based in Ukraine. I do those two calls because for me that's my passion, it's what I'm most interested in is the product, the user experience, what features we need to build, how to solve problems, constantly talking to our customer success team and our team and trying to understand because they really have the best finger on the pulse at this point.

You know, four years ago, five years ago, when we started the business, I knew exactly what our customers wanted because I was the one talking to our customers on a daily basis. Now it's we have a team doing that. And it's very important that I'm always in the loop in understanding what features we don't have or what we can make better or what's not clear to trying to really understand that through our customer successes and our operations is to make the backend work simpler for them to process more. So we don't have to throw people at problems, which a lot of companies do, and we could streamline it and make it automated and simple. So keep the team super lean, but do five, 10 times the work that we're currently doing and that's our goal.

But then really taking that information from our team and learning from our team as much as we can and bringing and trying to manage the process with the user experience in design. And in the second half of the day, it's like every other CEO's job, managing issues, problem solving, talking to potential partners, thinking outside the box and trying to come up with long term solutions, fundraising, etc.. So it's busy, and it feels it's even gotten busier since we've been home because it feels like there is no break, really. So it's constant and it might not be healthy, but it's what needs to happen during this kind of changing time. I think for right now, especially for our business, we've been growing tremendously fast, you know, going from 350,000 a month in March to two million, approximately two million last month and the month before, 1.4 million, which is the first time we ever broke a million the previous month before that was 992,000. So really scaling up, really growing and having the exact same team that's doing it. So a lot of challenges come up with a lot of problems. And that's what we're excited about. We love when challenges happen because it means we're on the right path and now we're doing something is difficult and it means that we're doing something that it was difficult for other people. They're not doing it. We should be the ones doing it and really trying to streamline our entire experience.


Chris Byers: I think you're right that there's so much I think everybody is experiencing right now the odd feeling of like I'm at home, I'm out doing things less, but somehow I feel like I'm working more or I'm busier than ever. And so I do think those things like you suggested or are doing yourself, getting out and and running or walking or whatever for an hour like those are those are really good practices to help keep our minds kind of focused and keep us from being one hundred percent work all the time, because that can definitely be taxing. You know, we talk about creating a digitally agile workforce and you obviously use technology all day, every day to accomplish what you're doing. Tell us about that technology. What are you doing to kind of stay competitive, stay ahead of the competition?


Jeremy Parker: Yes. So everything on our site is pretty much fully custom. So we're constantly not really looking at our competitors. Honestly, I didn't look at any of our competitors until year two because I didn't want to be led in a certain way that maybe they were doing something. And I would probably have to believe that they're doing it because it's the right way to do it. So we took a really kind of a simple approach, like don't even look at our competitors for the first version of the platform. Let's just talk to our customers and design a platform that we would think makes the most sense really from the ground up. So that's what we did. And I think it's allowed us to think of the whole industry a little bit different than everyone else is thinking of it. So that's been really great.

But then you kind of start layering different features and different functionality. So we've added Intercom, which has been probably our best tool that we use to engage with our customers. All of our customers are inbound and a lot of our customers check out without speaking to anybody, which is awesome. And a lot of our customers need to ask questions, which is totally great. It's like, is this product going to come out in time? Is it going to look perfect? You know, they want to feel confident before they check out with a large order, especially if they're buying it on behalf of their company. A lot's on the line. So having Intercom has been an incredibly vital tool for us to really engage with our customers in real time, answer their questions and get them to feel confident with ordering.

Obviously all the backend features, backend platforms like HubSpot and Marketo really trying to automate the marketing because our team is very limited. How do you engage with your best customers? How do you convert them and give them a great experience, so trying to just use as many tools, that doesn't make sense for us to build and all the things that are proprietary to us that is unique to us, that we want to own everything. So really trying to focus and build that right platform from day one and constantly listen to our customers as much as possible and constantly keep building and building, building so we chip away at it all like a blocking and tackling set. You get to a point where things are going to be really challenging and then when it's really challenging, you make it better and then there could be other challenges. So it's never going to be an end. And as long as you keep trying to innovate and push forward and do things that other people are not doing or do things that really makes sense for your customers, it's never going to get easy. But that's what I love about it. That's why we're in this business, to challenge ourselves and to grow and to build something better than what's out there.


Chris Byers: I think you've got some advice in there that sounds really interesting. And it sounds like there's times where it's valuable to go explore, like what's someone else in the world doing and maybe you want to repeat that. So what's everybody else doing for marketing automation? Let me go get some HubSpot. But then there's times where it sounds like you're saying it's actually smarter to not observe what else is going on in the world, but maybe simply sit and experience your problem, try to understand your problem and solve it in the way that you think is right. Can you describe that a little bit more?


Jeremy Parker: That's 100 percent right. In the very beginning of the business, I was doing a little bit of research before I really stopped myself. And you start to look at what else is out there. And at some point I was designing like a rabbit hole. I was designing the wrong experience and I knew it was the wrong experience. I was basing it on other customers and trying to make their experience better. And I kept finding myself like, why do I even have to do that? Like, shouldn't you be thinking about the big picture of if I was a customer and I landed on a promotional product site, what would I want the experience to be? And I didn't really know the answer to that. So I figured let me just speak to as many customers as possible and don't have this preconceived idea of what the right idea is. I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, you always either think you need to have the right idea from day one, which is not true, or that you have to feel that ego that it has to be my idea, which is not true.

I think as an entrepreneur and starting a business, you have to be totally OK with other people's opinion. You might not like the opinions. You might not have to agree with opinions, but you should be super open to it and you can't be fearful of starting something even if you had no idea. And I always say to friends of mine who are nervous, I don't have the right idea or is it going to work or not. If you really, truly believe that you're going to ultimately get the right idea, then just go out there, because it's never going to be what you expected from day one. You know, in a lot of times, fear kills more dreams than failure ever could. A lot of people are just scared of doing something, scared of putting themselves out there, scared of internally their mind, the people thinking of them as a failure. But if you can remove that fear, anything is possible. You're unlimited, it's like a superpower. Like if you're OK failing and you're learning and, you know, ultimately you're going to fail a thousand times, but you believe in yourself and you believe that you make it better and eventually you will succeed. It's a superpower. You're unstoppable. So I like to think I try to get into that mentality always and totally be OK with it. And even a lot of employees who are this is the first time they've ever joined a startup. And it was hard to break them out of their their notion of, oh, something's going wrong, things are really bad. It's OK if things go wrong, as long as you solve it. No one expects you to be one hundred percent perfect from day one. We're a startup, we're growing, we're learning. But as long as we constantly do our best effort, chip away at the problems, keep building as more problems arise, figure out a solution and fix it. You know, we're five years old. We're still having tons of issues, but we have a lot less issues now than we did a year ago. And we have different issues now. And then five months from now, we'll have a lot less issues than we had now and there'll be other issues. So it's just constantly being OK with that failure, in that case being, you know, it's all for a greater purpose.


Chris Byers: You know, I think that's wonderful advice. It was actually Joel Sapolsky who really opened my eyes. I was six months into the job and I took it over from our founder and a good friend of mine. But I was trying to run the business for a long time thinking like, oh, what would he do? Because it's been successful so far because he's been here. And Joel talked about this idea where he had the exact same experience with stock exchange. And at some point he was like, oh, this has to be my vision. And what that means is if it's my vision that I may fall flat on my face tomorrow, but that's the only way I can know how to actually go forward, because I know I am motivated. I know why I want to solve the problem. And I can't tell you how many times I've had to come back to this idea that I can't worry about what other people's expectations are or what I think the next smarter CEO might do in this case. I've got to say, I'm going to own this problem. And if I fail tomorrow, well, at least I know why I failed and why I chose to to make the decisions. I love that thinking.


Jeremy Parker: You have to think that way. And it's really I think for me, it's I'm lucky. I feel very lucky. I got to a place where I'm totally OK with failure. And I think once you get to that mentality, then I'm OK with failure ultimately, but I'm OK failing on a daily basis because. I feel like when you're failing more, the more you fail, the further you're getting to ultimately get to the right place and with the right solution is so it's totally ok. It's just a part of the process. And as long as you know it's part of the process, then nothing could derail you.


Chris Byers: I think that's so applicable not just to leaders or the senior leader of an organization, but to leaders all across the organization. The moment you are willing to say, I'm going to do something and take enough risk and I'm OK failing, that's the moment you're really going to move forward. If you're always just trying to think, what are the rules, what are the best way to do this that I think somebody else wants me to do, it's always going to hold you back. So I think it's wonderful advice. As we kind of begin to wrap up the conversation, we've talked about this idea that really can be overwhelming in some ways. And I'm curious, where do you think people should start when they think about starting a business or how do they get just going and take those first steps?


Jeremy Parker: Find an industry that you're passionate about. You don't have to have the right solution, but find something that you're passionate about. Because what's going to happen is if you ever get hit in the face and at startups, you are going to get smacked in the face thousands of times on a daily basis. A lot of people I've seen start businesses. And then the first issue, they pack it up and they're over it. For a business to succeed, it's going to take many, many years. Whatever you're doing, you're going to be in it for many, many years until you get to that successful outcome that you'll ultimately want. Or it could be forever. Could be your whole life depends on really what you want to do with it. So I think really find the industry that you're super passionate about and then just be OK with not knowing what the right answer is. You know, be OK with learning, be open minded, start to talk to all customers. Your idea from day one might completely change on the second week or the third week, and it might pivot in the third year like things are constantly going to be evolving and changing and just be open minded to maybe not knowing what the right answer is. But as long as you feel like you're on the path or you're eager to find the right answer, you're going to find it. You're going to figure it out. You know, it's never over until it's over. It's unlimited what you could possibly do. So I would just say, put yourself out there. Don't be scared of failure. Try to learn as much as possible and constantly move and pivot as much as you can until you get to a place where it's right.


Chris Byers: Well, I've got a handful of kind of rapid fire questions to kind of end up on. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity in your business processes?


Jeremy Parker: Simplicity. I always think, I don't know if it's simplicity, but I always think of consistency. I think a lot of people in this world are not necessarily consistent. As long as you're consistent and you're working really hard and you're working towards a problem and trying to figure out a solution every single day. And you might have great days and you might have really bad days. But as long as you're consistent more days than you're not consistent, you'll ultimately get to the place where you want to be. So trying to simplify it, trying to be really focused on what the main goal is, you know, not get distracted by too many things, really try to say what's the ultimate goal? What's my North Star, as they say, and really trying to be laser focused on that and consistently laser focus on it until you get it to be really right.


Chris Byers: And tell us, what's your go to productivity tip is.


Jeremy Parker: For me, it's honestly running. I run in the morning, I have to clear my head. It allows me to be way more productive throughout the day. I think if I just started the day and went into the office, my head will be all over the place. So I think having a clear mind going into it, really think from like the bird's eye view every single day and kind of resetting yourself and try to understand what the main objectives are. And what I do is once I get into the office before I even open on my computer, before I talk to anybody, I write down all the ideas I've been thinking about on that run to make sure I don't forget it and try to organize my day in some ways, like what's the big picture ideas and what's kind of more of the granular things. And I think just having a to do list, having a clear head and a to do list, you could constantly feel like you're checking things off the box and you start getting those early wins. It could be something very simple as just like you have a call with the tech team, you do every day. But being able to check it off the list makes you feel like you're accomplishing something and you're getting to your next phase. So building on wins, I think is very important.


Chris Byers: All right. And how will you be reimagining your work moving forward?


Jeremy Parker: We have a really good game plan for the next six months. Now, obviously, the world could change dramatically again. So we will have to always keep our finger on the pulse. But for us, it's really trying to focus on the distribution. We've really streamlined the entire experience of buying swag. Now it's about making the entire experience of distributing swag automated and simple and streamlined. And that means once we have this swag distribution platform really to where it needs to be and now we're about eighty five percent of where the ultimate vision of it is, then how do you automate the distribution? So, you know, integrating into HubSpot in Marketo and Salesforce or Justworks or HR solutions and allowing people to kind of set it and forget it. Like a person's birthday, be able to automatically send them swag, a person's five year anniversary, send them swag. Somebody hasn't responded to your email, press a button in Salesforce and sends them swag to kind of close the deal. Somebody fills out a form or attends one of your events through Marketo or HubSpot, it automatically triggers a notification to send them something. Try to figure out a process for people to buy swag up front once, say, in the programs, decide how they want and who should be getting stuff based on triggers and then just kind of let the magic happen and allow it to be super automated. So that's ultimately where our goal is and we're hoping to get to that place by middle of next year.


Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up this episode featuring Jeremy Parker, there's a handful of things that I just heard that I thought were really powerful. One is it's really important for you to find a problem that you care about. If you can find that problem, get focused on it, be consistent, spend time with it, you're going to get somewhere and you're going to solve some cool problems in the world. Have a willingness to fail and willingness to kind of learn from that and move on and keep moving toward success, but have those daily failures so you can get to the long term success. Find ways to clear your mind, whether it's running or something else that helps you get away from the day to day so your thoughts can actually get organized and get kind of cleaned up and you can get focused on what's really important.

Thank you for joining us for this episode and season, we'll be back next year with new guests, new topics, and even more ways to reimagine work. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to get new episodes when they drop, or head to formstack.com/podcasts to catch up on any episodes you missed.

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Jeremy Parker: How to Build an Impact-Focused Business

Jeremy Parker, CEO of Swag.com, explains what it means to build a business focused on impact. Discover how to align business success with doing good.
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Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. And in this episode, we are talking with Jeremy Parker. He is the CEO and co-founder of Swag.com. It's an e-commerce platform for purchasing promotional materials.

Jeremy is passionate about creating a conscientious business, serving the best interest of his employees and customers. And in our conversation, we're going to dig into how he's built a responsible business model while experiencing exponential growth, particularly during a time where others in his industry are declining. How has he reimagined his work and Swag.com's ability to grow. Let's find out.

Jeremy, welcome to Ripple Effect.


Jeremy Parker: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.


Chris Byers: As we get started, I'd love to hear and love for you to share with our listeners your background. How did you get to Swag.com, what's some history there that got you to today?

Jeremy Parker: Yes, I started as a filmmaker. I went to Boston University. I was a documentary filmmaker. I really went to college specifically for marketing or so I thought. And when I went to BU and I was looking at the course curriculum, I looked at the film program and the marketing program, I realized that they were pretty much exactly the same thing except for film. I will learn how to make videos and tell stories through videos. And this is at the onset when YouTube is starting. And I figured that's the really the way to go. And during my time there, I created a feature length documentary called One Percent that ultimately ended up winning the audience award at the Vail Film Festival, a really big film festival. And I remember I was in Vail and after the awards ceremony and I go down to the celebrity or quote unquote celebrity brunch and half the room was celebrities and half the room were these these artists, struggling artists. And I realized I had to kind of do an internal gut check, do I want this to be my life? It was a very weird flight home, you know, going back to Boston, going back to to college where I was, had pretty much the highs of the high you could get to in this independent film world. But I really realized that this was not the path for me or wasn't what I truly loved and what I wanted to do.

So after college, I started my first company and I had no business experience whatsoever. So I thought, what business can I start that I could learn all the different aspects of business? So I thought starting a t-shirt company, I could learn how to build an e-commerce site and how to do the marketing and how to do production, manufacturing and all the different aspects of business. I did this for about two years; I launched it in 2007. So if you could remember 2007, this is when all the banks were going under. It was a really bad time, especially for really high end t-shirts. And we were selling two hundred t-shirts to different boutiques all around the world. And these boutiques just ended up closing a lot of them. And what we did was we started a marketing, kind of gimmicky now that I think about it, but at the time I tied the prices of our shirts to the price of the Dow Jones. So for every hundred points the Dow dropped, the customers would get a discount on the t-shirt price. And it's a little gimmicky, but it ended up getting picked up by Mark Cuban's blog, Blog Maverick, which got a lot of eyeballs and then ultimately got picked up by Ad Age, which ran the whole feature on the story and how we're able to pivot during this really difficult period of time. And it got on the radar of this guy, Eliot Peyser.

Eliot Peyser is the CEO of Weatherproof Garment Company. And I ended up meeting with Eliot and we became friends.  I would show up as office, you know, once a week for a period of time and just kind of spit ball ideas. He was a very creative guy and we were just throwing ideas against the wall. And they also owned another business called MV Sport. Now MV Sport is one of the largest players in the promotional product space. Now, I had no knowledge of this promotional product space. I had no clue what it was. I didn't know anything about it. This was around 2009 at the time. But being around Eliot and going to different events and trade shows with Eliot, I realized that it was kind of a missing piece in this industry. So I started a creative division under MV Sport really about twelve years ago, thirteen years ago at this point. And I learned a lot about the industry as a whole, who the buyer was, what the problems of the industry were. And then you fast forward 10 years. I've done a lot of different things from starting a company with my brother and Jesse Esler that ultimately ended up selling to a publicly traded company that was around social media influencers.

I found myself ultimately always constantly thinking about the swag space and how there hasn't really been a player that's reimagined it or innovated it at all. And the aha moment of starting Swag was the industries remain old, fragmented, and broken. But the buyer changed. And once I realized that the buyer is no longer this forty, fifty year old office manager and it's a millennial buyer. Well how do you build a platform really focus on today's buyer. So 2016, started Swag.com. We've grown five years in a row. We were just named the 218th fastest growing company on the Inc 500 in 2020. We have over five thousand customers from Facebook and Google and Amazon and Netflix and Spotify and TikTok to much smaller companies. And we're really trying to streamline the entire experience, making it really easy for customers to not only find what they're looking for, design it, and buy it in a matter of seconds, but also send it out and distribute it to all of their remote employees, all of their best customers, all of their leads. So a really robust swag management and distribution platform, all in one.


Chris Byers: Well, that is an amazing story and I love the gist. Well, the story of how you used the Dow Jones kind of going up and down to change pricing, like just love the unique kind of thinking there. And it's funny you made the point you didn't know how to start a business or you didn't know what starting a business was like. And yet I actually think that's probably what's giving you the freedom to build a great business is not having a bunch of rules that you were trying to follow, but rather, how do I just see a problem and go try to work against it and make make some impact? What do you think keeps you motivated to kind of continue to build businesses?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, I always think about this. A lot of people ask me that question. I'm constantly thinking about it. It's not to make money. I'm not really that kind of person who's like, I need to make more money, make it bigger and bigger. It's kind of an internal thing. You know, I see a problem and I want to fix it. I'm like, I'm a tinkerer, I'm more of a creative in that way of trying to see the big problem, how people are doing it and trying to do it in a different way. That, I think is the right way of making people's lives a lot easier. You know, swag, it seems like such a a non-sexy industry. No one really thinks to get into the promotional product space. Many people actually think of it as throwaway items. And I want to combat that because swag is such a powerful marketing tool if it's done right. And that's a big caveat. If it's done right, it needs to be high quality. People need to get it and actually want to keep it and they want to use it. And then it's really valuable. You know, you think of in general a lot of marketing initiatives. And you watch TV and you fast forward through commercials. Right. People are trained to avoid ads at all costs. You're browsing the internet and you put the ad blocker and and it blocks those ads, or you're looking through a magazine and you flip through the ads, you want to get to the content. People are programmatically set at this point to avoid ads at all costs. And with swag, what do you say when somebody gives you a really high quality piece of products or something you say thank you. It really does make an impact when you give them something that they're actually going to value.

So my entire business, it was from the very beginning, was really focused on, well, let's curate the best of what's out there. You know, I don't need to offer a thousand pens, a thousand notebooks. Let's curate. Let's make it really easy for customers to find what they're looking for and make sure that every single thing on our site is quality. But then who has time to look through these big catalogs and wasting paper and all these things that just doesn't make any sense. Let them streamline it. Let them find it. Upload their logo. Our system detects how many colors are in the logo. Click a button, checkout, click a button and send it to a thousand different addresses. I want it in the marketing closet or sales closet. A London office. New York office. You could break it down by department location, permission settings, approval flows, automate the entire experience and just free up your time. You shouldn't be wasting your time on swag. So we want to really streamline the entire experience for everybody we know.


Chris Byers: You're beginning to talk about something that I think is is really important. And it's really how does the user experience impact not only your ability as a business owner, founder, CEO, grow the business, but as a way to kind of give people an easy way to get the job done? I can't tell you how much I see where user experience just completely blocks kind of a company's ability to grow and kind of serve their customers because... It doesn't even have to be hard stuff. It can be things that are just like tedious and that extra few seconds. But every day, like, it'll tax you over time and eventually causes you to to not want to buy or not want to use the product. And there's almost probably a granular in the weeds thing that you're talking about that not everybody always realizes they need to do. Sometimes as a CEO, you kind of think, oh, I cast vision and all that, but at times you do need to kind of get into the weeds. How do you think about that?


Jeremy Parker: One hundred percent. I mean, when we started this business, I was not only CEO, I was head of product, I was head intern, I was head deliveryman. You have to do everything, especially at the very beginning. You have very limited resources. I'll tell you the story of when we started. So our first customer ever was Facebook, which sounds crazy to think that your first customer is such a big company, but that was by design. When we started the business, we realized we had this amazing Swag.com brand name, which took us about nine months to get. And we had no website and we frankly didn't know exactly the right experience to build. My experience in promotional products, fourteen years ago, things were very fragmented, stale, and broken, but it changed a little bit. And I wanted to do the first year just kind of a deep dive on who the customer really is and understand what product we should actually be building. So we were traveling salesman and I would knock on doors and would go to big offices and I would look at, reach out to all my LinkedIn friends and see where they worked and even if they didn't buy swag, but just try to get into the office. This is really what we did for Facebook. We got into the office through a friend and we walked up and down the hallways just meeting people and speaking to people until somebody want to buy something from us, and it didn't matter about how much money we were going to make, it was just trying to learn from the customer and get those row of logos, that social proof.

The second day I went to work and when they asked us who else we work with, I said Facebook. And they probably assume we work with thousands of other customers. But really, it was their second day of sales. And we work just with Facebook and we repeat that cycle to get that row of logos of blue chip companies. Really do the unscalable things. In the beginning, you have to do everything. It's unscalable. We had no platform, but then we learned as much as we could that first year, built this automated ecommerce experience and really grew it, you know, going from 350,000 the first year to 1.1 million through the ecommerce site, the second year to 3.1 million to 6.9 million, consistently growing. And what's interesting is this year is the first year we're going to break 10 million in sales in the pandemic, but the first year we ever hired a salesperson, all of our sales came completely inbound, no outbound whatsoever. And we had two customer service reps handling all those orders. So our entire vision from the very beginning was there's so much friction, there's so many roadblocks, so many hurdles that people have to do. Traditionally with selling of these promotional products, how can we streamline everything, whether it's our end of how to process orders to make our jobs a lot easier so we could scale infinitely amount like we could go from 500,000 dollars a month to three million dollars another month and have the same exact team. How many sales can we actually convert with like a two person team? And that's what we've been trying to do, keep it as super lean as possible, but really allow ourselves to grow. And what's exciting is, you know, in March when the pandemic hit, we were doing about 350,000 in sales. And now last month we did about 2 million in sales and we have pretty much the same exact team. So it just shows that we're able to grow now and scale and automate the experience of not only customers, but for our team to process more orders. But you have to start from from ground one. You're not going to have that process from the day one. So you have to learn as much as possible and you have to be OK doing those hard chores or the things that maybe doesn't sound fun or sexy or exciting. You have to, you know, roll up your sleeves.


Chris Byers: That is truly great to hear how you've thought about that. I'm curious, you've obviously at this point experienced in business a couple of major either recessions or like that, even whether it's a blip or something, recession or whatever, this year. How have you been able to kind of navigate through that? And how have you approached when you've seen those moments coming?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, it's hard. It's not I'm not going to say it was easy or I had the answer. You know, when the pandemic hit, it really hurt our business. It hurt our whole industry. The whole promotional product industry is down upwards of 44% this year versus last year. And it makes sense on the surface.

You know, we had the HR manager for a company buying swag for internal use to give to onboarding of new hires. And no one's hiring right now or you have the marketing team buying for trade shows. There are no trade shows going on. Or you're the office manager buying for the swag office or company culture in the office and no one's in the office. So on the surface, when you're faced with that and you go from 200,000 dollars the first week of March and sales of 19,000 the second week, you really have to do an internal gut check and say, what do we have that could win in this space? Like how how can we adapt? And we've done a lot of things and we threw a lot of things at the wall and some things worked and some things really didn't work.

You know, we were the first ones that I know of to start really selling masks. And right when it came out selling blank masks, it was actually the only product we ever sold on our site that you didn't have to upload your logo on. Our site is all about customization, and we started offering just masks. A lot of our suppliers, you know, repurpose their facilities to make masks. And we felt like we have this huge database and infrastructure of suppliers that we could really be of help. So we launched this mask program for every 100 masks that are bought, We donate 10 to people in need, you know, front line workers, homeless shelters, different people who we can help because we knew a lot of people were very nervous and didn't have, you know, the supply chain that we had. And we donated over 4,000 masks during that period of time. And that honestly was great because we felt like we're giving back and we're helping humanity and just people as a whole. But also it actually kept the business afloat. Now, we were growing then, but it allowed us to not have to lay off a lot of our team members, you know, to keep the team as intact, which is very important for us as our team is our family. So it's really important that we did everything we possibly could to make it through it. And then ultimately we ended up allowing this to really grow in the last five months have been the best five months we've ever done as the swag distribution platform.

We really got a feeling as we were building this platform about two years ago where we saw the transition to work from home. Now, we never thought a pandemic with it. We never thought it would take off like this. And hopefully the world gets back on track sometime soon. But we were building a platform for this work from home where people may not, we felt like they may not have to go to a trade show or they didn't want to go to the office every day. How can we build a simple process for people to be able to distribute swag, send it to remote addresses? Whether they want to send it to one address at a time or thousands at a time, we should build the platform to allow them to do that. So we've been building this process for two years and when this pandemic hit, we really had to reposition it because it was structured and formatted for a marketing team and sales teams, and we really had to kind of redevelop how we sell the platform to engage with the office manager and how they engage the remote employees to keep the company culture thriving even when no one's in the office. So there's a lot of transition and a lot of moving parts, but ultimately it ends up working for us and it's a constant grind. You know, hopefully we'll be able to keep this momentum up and keep helping our customers and allowing them to do business in such a strange time for everyone.


Chris Byers: So one of the things you touched on a couple of times there was this idea of impact, whether that's impact of making sure our organization still has the cash to pay for people's salaries and keep them going, but also opportunities to kind of give back. How do you think about what impact needs to look like from a business and how you go about it?


Jeremy Parker: It's interesting. I mean, I think we just want to sleep well at night. You want to have a feeling when you're in the office that's not just business. You know, obviously the business has to succeed and we want it to succeed for everyone within the company because that will allow people to have a great job and have longevity in their career. But it also needs to feel right. So whenever we're approaching anything, we always think, is this the right thing to do or can we help in any way?

From the very beginning of our business, we launched a program called Swag Swap. It was literally at the top even before we had a website built, we had a landing page and we had this this little link in the bottom that said Swag Swap. So our program, basically the whole idea is you buy swag from other companies or you have old swag in your closet. If you donate that swag to people in need, we'll give you a discount on new swag through us. And we baked it into the core principles of our business of how to give back even the entire process of being super curated and only offering the best and highest quality products is because, frankly, it's upsetting to see tons of things being wasted from companies and then thrown in the trash. It doesn't do the company any good. It costs the company money. It tarnishes the brand. It's not great for the environment.

So we felt like we need to change how people think of swag. It needs to be all about high quality. It's the only way this is going to work. It's they only way it's sustainable. So we're really trying to focus on quality products from the get go. It's in our DNA. And then whenever something arises where there's a challenge, we're constantly thinking, well, can we add and try to help the world in any way, in a small way? No, we're not moving the needle in such a massive way. We're still a small startup. But anything you could possibly do that I think benefits you, whether it's your team members or your customers or your community as a whole, you should strive for.


Chris Byers: So some people who are listening are probably earlier on in their career or they're running their first business. How has that changed over time and running more than one business? How is your kind of philosophy, let's say, on having an impact and being conscientious about the world changed?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know if it has changed. I think the bigger our business gets, the bigger impact theoretically you could have. But how I grew up, I was always around charity. So following my parents and being brought to different places to see the meaning, like what's important in this world is to give back, that's a big portion. Obviously, we're not a charity, we're a business, we're a startup, so our intention is to make money. But I think you can give back, you can do good things even when you do have a business and even, you know, it's not like one or the other or corporations are bad or this, like you can have a successful business. And as a business person, it's important that we make money as the first thing that we focus on. But as you get bigger, you always have a way to make a bigger impact. And I think now as we're scaling, we're hopefully going to be able to continue that, hopefully be able to hire more people, hopefully make that experience really great for our team members and really take care of them and their families and really just have them in mind. I think just constantly having your team in mind, constantly having your customers in mind and your community in mind, I think makes a better business as well.


Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit more about those experiences, that kind of maybe as you were growing up, that have informed the way you do think about having an impact.


Jeremy Parker: When I was much younger, like 11 years old, I went with my family to Israel and we went to this orphanage in Netanya in Israel. And I saw all these kids. There's hundreds of kids who didn't have a great family life who are living in this orphanage. And I went to all the different rooms. I remember I was around their age at the time. Some were a little older, some a little younger. And we became friends. I was running around with them and playing soccer with them all day. And I went to the room just to see where they were sleeping and where they're living. And I noticed that they didn't have any toys. And for me, it's such a small thing. Right. You're a kid, and I realize none of these kids had toys in the room. So I brought up to my parents and I said, you know what would be really great? My bar mitzvah, you get a bar mitzvah when you're thirteen, I said, it would be really great if I can raise money for these children and just donate. I didn't know it would turn into, just maybe raise a little bit of money and donate and buy some toys for these kids and give it to the orphanage and they could give it to the kids on their birthday or for holidays, etc.. So I launched with a friend of mine, my backyard. Remember this very vividly. We launched a carnival and it was like a small carnival with the water balloon fights and stuff like that. And we raised about a thousand dollars from the community and we ended up buying toys and we sent it to Israel. And what they did was, which is amazing, they set up a room, a small closet, like a really small closet that was called the Jeremy Parker Toy Room, right, and they put the toys in there, and then when other donors and other people came to visit this facility, this orphanage, they saw that Jeremy Parker toy room and they wanted to donate. And now it's been, I'm 35 now, so what, 22 years since then. And I visited them several times. They have this toy room. It's always been stocked and you realize just a small idea and the impact it could have on people's lives. So from very early on I realized that and kind of taking it to business. Now, obviously, I'm not running a charity, but you do constantly, always think of you know, how can you help people? I think it's just the basic instinct of how to help people. And I think if you think that way, you're going to be the best CEO you possibly could be because you're going to put yourself in situations of the people you need who are doing this with you, your team members, thinking about what they're going through, this pandemic. They're all working remotely. They're all scared. You know, everyone is nervous and trying to do whatever you can to make people as a whole, whoever you work with, have the best possible experience.


Chris Byers: Yeah, I think often in leadership, even as leaders, we often look to other people for the answer or look to other people for like what's the government going to do? What's somebody else going to do? And I love this idea that you're talking about, which is really we're the ones who can make a difference. And we can and we can make decisions. We can spend time with people to really encourage them and help them work through all the challenges that are going on right now. And I think we sometimes as leaders also think that it's business first and such. And we're not out to your point, doing charity work, but having an impact on people's lives is vital and important. Well, when we kind of take a step back and think about this year, just think about crafting a great business. We've been talking about this idea of reimagining your world of work. So what does it mean to you when I say that? What does it mean to reimagine work?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know. I say I'm constantly thinking about that and how the world will change and how it has changed already and how I don't know if it will ever go back to what it was. We have our office in New York City. We haven't got rid of it. We just actually got it. Three months before the pandemic on a three year lease, we have one or two people go into the office every day. We have a team of 26 in New York and people are scared. So I don't know. I'm not going to ever force them to go back in the office until there's a vaccine, until people feel safe. So we have been able to work remotely and it's been actually we've been able to to manage it.

I love working in the office. I love the creativity of the office. You're by the watercooler, you go to the kitchen and you just bump into somebody you might not ever really talk to, you know I'm the CEO so I'm dealing a lot with the executives. And you might not talk to every single person in the company at all times, but just being able to see people's face, have a conversation, you know, something sparks an idea and then it leads down the rabbit hole. Then you book a conference room and now you're speaking about something your never thought about speaking about for three hours. And that happens. And that stuff is really exciting. I love that. I love that creativity in that environment. And we're missing that. I've been trying to keep it as much as possible. It's not easy. And what I've been doing personally is I message different team members, unannounced, unscheduled, and just start talking to them. And the conversation could be a minute. It could be five minutes, could be half an hour. But try to get people to feel more connected, try to replicate that office environment and the office feel.

And I think a lot of people are going through this where they're not sure what's going to happen in the future. They may do partially back in the office, you know, maybe all remote. And I think we just have to be constantly adapting and looking at how the market reacts. That's really it. Just looking how our customers and our customers are office managers, HR managers, how are they doing business. And we have to make our service useful for them. Our whole business is trying to make their lives a lot easier. So right now it's a wide distribution platform. This is saving people a ton of time instead of having to ship products to their office or now to their home, packaged things up themselves and they go to the UPS store and ship it all over the place. We handle everything for them. Instead of having an office manager or somebody is launching a virtual event, have to gather everyone's address. Who's attending that event? We've built solutions that allow people to capture that information with t-shirt size the recipient is and try to humanize virtual events through a platform. But as the world changes and continues to shift, we'll constantly have to have our finger on the pulse and constantly keep developing and making the experience better for all of our customers.


Chris Byers: As you think about working at home more often, one of the things that means is that less and less people get to see what you're doing everyday. How does your personal life even play out at work? Tell us about a day in your life? What does that look like?


Jeremy Parker: So now I just actually had a baby, my first child in July, so it's a lot of stuff going on during this pandemic. I ended up ultimately moving with my wife and my child into my parents house, because New York City at the onset of the pandemic was very scary, it wasn't a place that we wanted to be. So we left for a couple of months, ultimately moved back to the city, had the baby. Now we're living back in Jersey in our own place, we're getting used to this new, this new normal. I'm waking up a lot earlier. I have the baby still in my room. I take about an hour to an hour and a half walk or run every single morning trying to clear my head, get into the office eight thirty nine o'clock and do all my calls, have my lead designers based in London. So I do an hour design call with them every morning. Our tech team is based in Ukraine. They're seven hours ahead. So I do an hour tech call with our CTO who's based in Ukraine. I do those two calls because for me that's my passion, it's what I'm most interested in is the product, the user experience, what features we need to build, how to solve problems, constantly talking to our customer success team and our team and trying to understand because they really have the best finger on the pulse at this point.

You know, four years ago, five years ago, when we started the business, I knew exactly what our customers wanted because I was the one talking to our customers on a daily basis. Now it's we have a team doing that. And it's very important that I'm always in the loop in understanding what features we don't have or what we can make better or what's not clear to trying to really understand that through our customer successes and our operations is to make the backend work simpler for them to process more. So we don't have to throw people at problems, which a lot of companies do, and we could streamline it and make it automated and simple. So keep the team super lean, but do five, 10 times the work that we're currently doing and that's our goal.

But then really taking that information from our team and learning from our team as much as we can and bringing and trying to manage the process with the user experience in design. And in the second half of the day, it's like every other CEO's job, managing issues, problem solving, talking to potential partners, thinking outside the box and trying to come up with long term solutions, fundraising, etc.. So it's busy, and it feels it's even gotten busier since we've been home because it feels like there is no break, really. So it's constant and it might not be healthy, but it's what needs to happen during this kind of changing time. I think for right now, especially for our business, we've been growing tremendously fast, you know, going from 350,000 a month in March to two million, approximately two million last month and the month before, 1.4 million, which is the first time we ever broke a million the previous month before that was 992,000. So really scaling up, really growing and having the exact same team that's doing it. So a lot of challenges come up with a lot of problems. And that's what we're excited about. We love when challenges happen because it means we're on the right path and now we're doing something is difficult and it means that we're doing something that it was difficult for other people. They're not doing it. We should be the ones doing it and really trying to streamline our entire experience.


Chris Byers: I think you're right that there's so much I think everybody is experiencing right now the odd feeling of like I'm at home, I'm out doing things less, but somehow I feel like I'm working more or I'm busier than ever. And so I do think those things like you suggested or are doing yourself, getting out and and running or walking or whatever for an hour like those are those are really good practices to help keep our minds kind of focused and keep us from being one hundred percent work all the time, because that can definitely be taxing. You know, we talk about creating a digitally agile workforce and you obviously use technology all day, every day to accomplish what you're doing. Tell us about that technology. What are you doing to kind of stay competitive, stay ahead of the competition?


Jeremy Parker: Yes. So everything on our site is pretty much fully custom. So we're constantly not really looking at our competitors. Honestly, I didn't look at any of our competitors until year two because I didn't want to be led in a certain way that maybe they were doing something. And I would probably have to believe that they're doing it because it's the right way to do it. So we took a really kind of a simple approach, like don't even look at our competitors for the first version of the platform. Let's just talk to our customers and design a platform that we would think makes the most sense really from the ground up. So that's what we did. And I think it's allowed us to think of the whole industry a little bit different than everyone else is thinking of it. So that's been really great.

But then you kind of start layering different features and different functionality. So we've added Intercom, which has been probably our best tool that we use to engage with our customers. All of our customers are inbound and a lot of our customers check out without speaking to anybody, which is awesome. And a lot of our customers need to ask questions, which is totally great. It's like, is this product going to come out in time? Is it going to look perfect? You know, they want to feel confident before they check out with a large order, especially if they're buying it on behalf of their company. A lot's on the line. So having Intercom has been an incredibly vital tool for us to really engage with our customers in real time, answer their questions and get them to feel confident with ordering.

Obviously all the backend features, backend platforms like HubSpot and Marketo really trying to automate the marketing because our team is very limited. How do you engage with your best customers? How do you convert them and give them a great experience, so trying to just use as many tools, that doesn't make sense for us to build and all the things that are proprietary to us that is unique to us, that we want to own everything. So really trying to focus and build that right platform from day one and constantly listen to our customers as much as possible and constantly keep building and building, building so we chip away at it all like a blocking and tackling set. You get to a point where things are going to be really challenging and then when it's really challenging, you make it better and then there could be other challenges. So it's never going to be an end. And as long as you keep trying to innovate and push forward and do things that other people are not doing or do things that really makes sense for your customers, it's never going to get easy. But that's what I love about it. That's why we're in this business, to challenge ourselves and to grow and to build something better than what's out there.


Chris Byers: I think you've got some advice in there that sounds really interesting. And it sounds like there's times where it's valuable to go explore, like what's someone else in the world doing and maybe you want to repeat that. So what's everybody else doing for marketing automation? Let me go get some HubSpot. But then there's times where it sounds like you're saying it's actually smarter to not observe what else is going on in the world, but maybe simply sit and experience your problem, try to understand your problem and solve it in the way that you think is right. Can you describe that a little bit more?


Jeremy Parker: That's 100 percent right. In the very beginning of the business, I was doing a little bit of research before I really stopped myself. And you start to look at what else is out there. And at some point I was designing like a rabbit hole. I was designing the wrong experience and I knew it was the wrong experience. I was basing it on other customers and trying to make their experience better. And I kept finding myself like, why do I even have to do that? Like, shouldn't you be thinking about the big picture of if I was a customer and I landed on a promotional product site, what would I want the experience to be? And I didn't really know the answer to that. So I figured let me just speak to as many customers as possible and don't have this preconceived idea of what the right idea is. I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, you always either think you need to have the right idea from day one, which is not true, or that you have to feel that ego that it has to be my idea, which is not true.

I think as an entrepreneur and starting a business, you have to be totally OK with other people's opinion. You might not like the opinions. You might not have to agree with opinions, but you should be super open to it and you can't be fearful of starting something even if you had no idea. And I always say to friends of mine who are nervous, I don't have the right idea or is it going to work or not. If you really, truly believe that you're going to ultimately get the right idea, then just go out there, because it's never going to be what you expected from day one. You know, in a lot of times, fear kills more dreams than failure ever could. A lot of people are just scared of doing something, scared of putting themselves out there, scared of internally their mind, the people thinking of them as a failure. But if you can remove that fear, anything is possible. You're unlimited, it's like a superpower. Like if you're OK failing and you're learning and, you know, ultimately you're going to fail a thousand times, but you believe in yourself and you believe that you make it better and eventually you will succeed. It's a superpower. You're unstoppable. So I like to think I try to get into that mentality always and totally be OK with it. And even a lot of employees who are this is the first time they've ever joined a startup. And it was hard to break them out of their their notion of, oh, something's going wrong, things are really bad. It's OK if things go wrong, as long as you solve it. No one expects you to be one hundred percent perfect from day one. We're a startup, we're growing, we're learning. But as long as we constantly do our best effort, chip away at the problems, keep building as more problems arise, figure out a solution and fix it. You know, we're five years old. We're still having tons of issues, but we have a lot less issues now than we did a year ago. And we have different issues now. And then five months from now, we'll have a lot less issues than we had now and there'll be other issues. So it's just constantly being OK with that failure, in that case being, you know, it's all for a greater purpose.


Chris Byers: You know, I think that's wonderful advice. It was actually Joel Sapolsky who really opened my eyes. I was six months into the job and I took it over from our founder and a good friend of mine. But I was trying to run the business for a long time thinking like, oh, what would he do? Because it's been successful so far because he's been here. And Joel talked about this idea where he had the exact same experience with stock exchange. And at some point he was like, oh, this has to be my vision. And what that means is if it's my vision that I may fall flat on my face tomorrow, but that's the only way I can know how to actually go forward, because I know I am motivated. I know why I want to solve the problem. And I can't tell you how many times I've had to come back to this idea that I can't worry about what other people's expectations are or what I think the next smarter CEO might do in this case. I've got to say, I'm going to own this problem. And if I fail tomorrow, well, at least I know why I failed and why I chose to to make the decisions. I love that thinking.


Jeremy Parker: You have to think that way. And it's really I think for me, it's I'm lucky. I feel very lucky. I got to a place where I'm totally OK with failure. And I think once you get to that mentality, then I'm OK with failure ultimately, but I'm OK failing on a daily basis because. I feel like when you're failing more, the more you fail, the further you're getting to ultimately get to the right place and with the right solution is so it's totally ok. It's just a part of the process. And as long as you know it's part of the process, then nothing could derail you.


Chris Byers: I think that's so applicable not just to leaders or the senior leader of an organization, but to leaders all across the organization. The moment you are willing to say, I'm going to do something and take enough risk and I'm OK failing, that's the moment you're really going to move forward. If you're always just trying to think, what are the rules, what are the best way to do this that I think somebody else wants me to do, it's always going to hold you back. So I think it's wonderful advice. As we kind of begin to wrap up the conversation, we've talked about this idea that really can be overwhelming in some ways. And I'm curious, where do you think people should start when they think about starting a business or how do they get just going and take those first steps?


Jeremy Parker: Find an industry that you're passionate about. You don't have to have the right solution, but find something that you're passionate about. Because what's going to happen is if you ever get hit in the face and at startups, you are going to get smacked in the face thousands of times on a daily basis. A lot of people I've seen start businesses. And then the first issue, they pack it up and they're over it. For a business to succeed, it's going to take many, many years. Whatever you're doing, you're going to be in it for many, many years until you get to that successful outcome that you'll ultimately want. Or it could be forever. Could be your whole life depends on really what you want to do with it. So I think really find the industry that you're super passionate about and then just be OK with not knowing what the right answer is. You know, be OK with learning, be open minded, start to talk to all customers. Your idea from day one might completely change on the second week or the third week, and it might pivot in the third year like things are constantly going to be evolving and changing and just be open minded to maybe not knowing what the right answer is. But as long as you feel like you're on the path or you're eager to find the right answer, you're going to find it. You're going to figure it out. You know, it's never over until it's over. It's unlimited what you could possibly do. So I would just say, put yourself out there. Don't be scared of failure. Try to learn as much as possible and constantly move and pivot as much as you can until you get to a place where it's right.


Chris Byers: Well, I've got a handful of kind of rapid fire questions to kind of end up on. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity in your business processes?


Jeremy Parker: Simplicity. I always think, I don't know if it's simplicity, but I always think of consistency. I think a lot of people in this world are not necessarily consistent. As long as you're consistent and you're working really hard and you're working towards a problem and trying to figure out a solution every single day. And you might have great days and you might have really bad days. But as long as you're consistent more days than you're not consistent, you'll ultimately get to the place where you want to be. So trying to simplify it, trying to be really focused on what the main goal is, you know, not get distracted by too many things, really try to say what's the ultimate goal? What's my North Star, as they say, and really trying to be laser focused on that and consistently laser focus on it until you get it to be really right.


Chris Byers: And tell us, what's your go to productivity tip is.


Jeremy Parker: For me, it's honestly running. I run in the morning, I have to clear my head. It allows me to be way more productive throughout the day. I think if I just started the day and went into the office, my head will be all over the place. So I think having a clear mind going into it, really think from like the bird's eye view every single day and kind of resetting yourself and try to understand what the main objectives are. And what I do is once I get into the office before I even open on my computer, before I talk to anybody, I write down all the ideas I've been thinking about on that run to make sure I don't forget it and try to organize my day in some ways, like what's the big picture ideas and what's kind of more of the granular things. And I think just having a to do list, having a clear head and a to do list, you could constantly feel like you're checking things off the box and you start getting those early wins. It could be something very simple as just like you have a call with the tech team, you do every day. But being able to check it off the list makes you feel like you're accomplishing something and you're getting to your next phase. So building on wins, I think is very important.


Chris Byers: All right. And how will you be reimagining your work moving forward?


Jeremy Parker: We have a really good game plan for the next six months. Now, obviously, the world could change dramatically again. So we will have to always keep our finger on the pulse. But for us, it's really trying to focus on the distribution. We've really streamlined the entire experience of buying swag. Now it's about making the entire experience of distributing swag automated and simple and streamlined. And that means once we have this swag distribution platform really to where it needs to be and now we're about eighty five percent of where the ultimate vision of it is, then how do you automate the distribution? So, you know, integrating into HubSpot in Marketo and Salesforce or Justworks or HR solutions and allowing people to kind of set it and forget it. Like a person's birthday, be able to automatically send them swag, a person's five year anniversary, send them swag. Somebody hasn't responded to your email, press a button in Salesforce and sends them swag to kind of close the deal. Somebody fills out a form or attends one of your events through Marketo or HubSpot, it automatically triggers a notification to send them something. Try to figure out a process for people to buy swag up front once, say, in the programs, decide how they want and who should be getting stuff based on triggers and then just kind of let the magic happen and allow it to be super automated. So that's ultimately where our goal is and we're hoping to get to that place by middle of next year.


Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up this episode featuring Jeremy Parker, there's a handful of things that I just heard that I thought were really powerful. One is it's really important for you to find a problem that you care about. If you can find that problem, get focused on it, be consistent, spend time with it, you're going to get somewhere and you're going to solve some cool problems in the world. Have a willingness to fail and willingness to kind of learn from that and move on and keep moving toward success, but have those daily failures so you can get to the long term success. Find ways to clear your mind, whether it's running or something else that helps you get away from the day to day so your thoughts can actually get organized and get kind of cleaned up and you can get focused on what's really important.

Thank you for joining us for this episode and season, we'll be back next year with new guests, new topics, and even more ways to reimagine work. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to get new episodes when they drop, or head to formstack.com/podcasts to catch up on any episodes you missed.

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. And in this episode, we are talking with Jeremy Parker. He is the CEO and co-founder of Swag.com. It's an e-commerce platform for purchasing promotional materials.

Jeremy is passionate about creating a conscientious business, serving the best interest of his employees and customers. And in our conversation, we're going to dig into how he's built a responsible business model while experiencing exponential growth, particularly during a time where others in his industry are declining. How has he reimagined his work and Swag.com's ability to grow. Let's find out.

Jeremy, welcome to Ripple Effect.


Jeremy Parker: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.


Chris Byers: As we get started, I'd love to hear and love for you to share with our listeners your background. How did you get to Swag.com, what's some history there that got you to today?

Jeremy Parker: Yes, I started as a filmmaker. I went to Boston University. I was a documentary filmmaker. I really went to college specifically for marketing or so I thought. And when I went to BU and I was looking at the course curriculum, I looked at the film program and the marketing program, I realized that they were pretty much exactly the same thing except for film. I will learn how to make videos and tell stories through videos. And this is at the onset when YouTube is starting. And I figured that's the really the way to go. And during my time there, I created a feature length documentary called One Percent that ultimately ended up winning the audience award at the Vail Film Festival, a really big film festival. And I remember I was in Vail and after the awards ceremony and I go down to the celebrity or quote unquote celebrity brunch and half the room was celebrities and half the room were these these artists, struggling artists. And I realized I had to kind of do an internal gut check, do I want this to be my life? It was a very weird flight home, you know, going back to Boston, going back to to college where I was, had pretty much the highs of the high you could get to in this independent film world. But I really realized that this was not the path for me or wasn't what I truly loved and what I wanted to do.

So after college, I started my first company and I had no business experience whatsoever. So I thought, what business can I start that I could learn all the different aspects of business? So I thought starting a t-shirt company, I could learn how to build an e-commerce site and how to do the marketing and how to do production, manufacturing and all the different aspects of business. I did this for about two years; I launched it in 2007. So if you could remember 2007, this is when all the banks were going under. It was a really bad time, especially for really high end t-shirts. And we were selling two hundred t-shirts to different boutiques all around the world. And these boutiques just ended up closing a lot of them. And what we did was we started a marketing, kind of gimmicky now that I think about it, but at the time I tied the prices of our shirts to the price of the Dow Jones. So for every hundred points the Dow dropped, the customers would get a discount on the t-shirt price. And it's a little gimmicky, but it ended up getting picked up by Mark Cuban's blog, Blog Maverick, which got a lot of eyeballs and then ultimately got picked up by Ad Age, which ran the whole feature on the story and how we're able to pivot during this really difficult period of time. And it got on the radar of this guy, Eliot Peyser.

Eliot Peyser is the CEO of Weatherproof Garment Company. And I ended up meeting with Eliot and we became friends.  I would show up as office, you know, once a week for a period of time and just kind of spit ball ideas. He was a very creative guy and we were just throwing ideas against the wall. And they also owned another business called MV Sport. Now MV Sport is one of the largest players in the promotional product space. Now, I had no knowledge of this promotional product space. I had no clue what it was. I didn't know anything about it. This was around 2009 at the time. But being around Eliot and going to different events and trade shows with Eliot, I realized that it was kind of a missing piece in this industry. So I started a creative division under MV Sport really about twelve years ago, thirteen years ago at this point. And I learned a lot about the industry as a whole, who the buyer was, what the problems of the industry were. And then you fast forward 10 years. I've done a lot of different things from starting a company with my brother and Jesse Esler that ultimately ended up selling to a publicly traded company that was around social media influencers.

I found myself ultimately always constantly thinking about the swag space and how there hasn't really been a player that's reimagined it or innovated it at all. And the aha moment of starting Swag was the industries remain old, fragmented, and broken. But the buyer changed. And once I realized that the buyer is no longer this forty, fifty year old office manager and it's a millennial buyer. Well how do you build a platform really focus on today's buyer. So 2016, started Swag.com. We've grown five years in a row. We were just named the 218th fastest growing company on the Inc 500 in 2020. We have over five thousand customers from Facebook and Google and Amazon and Netflix and Spotify and TikTok to much smaller companies. And we're really trying to streamline the entire experience, making it really easy for customers to not only find what they're looking for, design it, and buy it in a matter of seconds, but also send it out and distribute it to all of their remote employees, all of their best customers, all of their leads. So a really robust swag management and distribution platform, all in one.


Chris Byers: Well, that is an amazing story and I love the gist. Well, the story of how you used the Dow Jones kind of going up and down to change pricing, like just love the unique kind of thinking there. And it's funny you made the point you didn't know how to start a business or you didn't know what starting a business was like. And yet I actually think that's probably what's giving you the freedom to build a great business is not having a bunch of rules that you were trying to follow, but rather, how do I just see a problem and go try to work against it and make make some impact? What do you think keeps you motivated to kind of continue to build businesses?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, I always think about this. A lot of people ask me that question. I'm constantly thinking about it. It's not to make money. I'm not really that kind of person who's like, I need to make more money, make it bigger and bigger. It's kind of an internal thing. You know, I see a problem and I want to fix it. I'm like, I'm a tinkerer, I'm more of a creative in that way of trying to see the big problem, how people are doing it and trying to do it in a different way. That, I think is the right way of making people's lives a lot easier. You know, swag, it seems like such a a non-sexy industry. No one really thinks to get into the promotional product space. Many people actually think of it as throwaway items. And I want to combat that because swag is such a powerful marketing tool if it's done right. And that's a big caveat. If it's done right, it needs to be high quality. People need to get it and actually want to keep it and they want to use it. And then it's really valuable. You know, you think of in general a lot of marketing initiatives. And you watch TV and you fast forward through commercials. Right. People are trained to avoid ads at all costs. You're browsing the internet and you put the ad blocker and and it blocks those ads, or you're looking through a magazine and you flip through the ads, you want to get to the content. People are programmatically set at this point to avoid ads at all costs. And with swag, what do you say when somebody gives you a really high quality piece of products or something you say thank you. It really does make an impact when you give them something that they're actually going to value.

So my entire business, it was from the very beginning, was really focused on, well, let's curate the best of what's out there. You know, I don't need to offer a thousand pens, a thousand notebooks. Let's curate. Let's make it really easy for customers to find what they're looking for and make sure that every single thing on our site is quality. But then who has time to look through these big catalogs and wasting paper and all these things that just doesn't make any sense. Let them streamline it. Let them find it. Upload their logo. Our system detects how many colors are in the logo. Click a button, checkout, click a button and send it to a thousand different addresses. I want it in the marketing closet or sales closet. A London office. New York office. You could break it down by department location, permission settings, approval flows, automate the entire experience and just free up your time. You shouldn't be wasting your time on swag. So we want to really streamline the entire experience for everybody we know.


Chris Byers: You're beginning to talk about something that I think is is really important. And it's really how does the user experience impact not only your ability as a business owner, founder, CEO, grow the business, but as a way to kind of give people an easy way to get the job done? I can't tell you how much I see where user experience just completely blocks kind of a company's ability to grow and kind of serve their customers because... It doesn't even have to be hard stuff. It can be things that are just like tedious and that extra few seconds. But every day, like, it'll tax you over time and eventually causes you to to not want to buy or not want to use the product. And there's almost probably a granular in the weeds thing that you're talking about that not everybody always realizes they need to do. Sometimes as a CEO, you kind of think, oh, I cast vision and all that, but at times you do need to kind of get into the weeds. How do you think about that?


Jeremy Parker: One hundred percent. I mean, when we started this business, I was not only CEO, I was head of product, I was head intern, I was head deliveryman. You have to do everything, especially at the very beginning. You have very limited resources. I'll tell you the story of when we started. So our first customer ever was Facebook, which sounds crazy to think that your first customer is such a big company, but that was by design. When we started the business, we realized we had this amazing Swag.com brand name, which took us about nine months to get. And we had no website and we frankly didn't know exactly the right experience to build. My experience in promotional products, fourteen years ago, things were very fragmented, stale, and broken, but it changed a little bit. And I wanted to do the first year just kind of a deep dive on who the customer really is and understand what product we should actually be building. So we were traveling salesman and I would knock on doors and would go to big offices and I would look at, reach out to all my LinkedIn friends and see where they worked and even if they didn't buy swag, but just try to get into the office. This is really what we did for Facebook. We got into the office through a friend and we walked up and down the hallways just meeting people and speaking to people until somebody want to buy something from us, and it didn't matter about how much money we were going to make, it was just trying to learn from the customer and get those row of logos, that social proof.

The second day I went to work and when they asked us who else we work with, I said Facebook. And they probably assume we work with thousands of other customers. But really, it was their second day of sales. And we work just with Facebook and we repeat that cycle to get that row of logos of blue chip companies. Really do the unscalable things. In the beginning, you have to do everything. It's unscalable. We had no platform, but then we learned as much as we could that first year, built this automated ecommerce experience and really grew it, you know, going from 350,000 the first year to 1.1 million through the ecommerce site, the second year to 3.1 million to 6.9 million, consistently growing. And what's interesting is this year is the first year we're going to break 10 million in sales in the pandemic, but the first year we ever hired a salesperson, all of our sales came completely inbound, no outbound whatsoever. And we had two customer service reps handling all those orders. So our entire vision from the very beginning was there's so much friction, there's so many roadblocks, so many hurdles that people have to do. Traditionally with selling of these promotional products, how can we streamline everything, whether it's our end of how to process orders to make our jobs a lot easier so we could scale infinitely amount like we could go from 500,000 dollars a month to three million dollars another month and have the same exact team. How many sales can we actually convert with like a two person team? And that's what we've been trying to do, keep it as super lean as possible, but really allow ourselves to grow. And what's exciting is, you know, in March when the pandemic hit, we were doing about 350,000 in sales. And now last month we did about 2 million in sales and we have pretty much the same exact team. So it just shows that we're able to grow now and scale and automate the experience of not only customers, but for our team to process more orders. But you have to start from from ground one. You're not going to have that process from the day one. So you have to learn as much as possible and you have to be OK doing those hard chores or the things that maybe doesn't sound fun or sexy or exciting. You have to, you know, roll up your sleeves.


Chris Byers: That is truly great to hear how you've thought about that. I'm curious, you've obviously at this point experienced in business a couple of major either recessions or like that, even whether it's a blip or something, recession or whatever, this year. How have you been able to kind of navigate through that? And how have you approached when you've seen those moments coming?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, it's hard. It's not I'm not going to say it was easy or I had the answer. You know, when the pandemic hit, it really hurt our business. It hurt our whole industry. The whole promotional product industry is down upwards of 44% this year versus last year. And it makes sense on the surface.

You know, we had the HR manager for a company buying swag for internal use to give to onboarding of new hires. And no one's hiring right now or you have the marketing team buying for trade shows. There are no trade shows going on. Or you're the office manager buying for the swag office or company culture in the office and no one's in the office. So on the surface, when you're faced with that and you go from 200,000 dollars the first week of March and sales of 19,000 the second week, you really have to do an internal gut check and say, what do we have that could win in this space? Like how how can we adapt? And we've done a lot of things and we threw a lot of things at the wall and some things worked and some things really didn't work.

You know, we were the first ones that I know of to start really selling masks. And right when it came out selling blank masks, it was actually the only product we ever sold on our site that you didn't have to upload your logo on. Our site is all about customization, and we started offering just masks. A lot of our suppliers, you know, repurpose their facilities to make masks. And we felt like we have this huge database and infrastructure of suppliers that we could really be of help. So we launched this mask program for every 100 masks that are bought, We donate 10 to people in need, you know, front line workers, homeless shelters, different people who we can help because we knew a lot of people were very nervous and didn't have, you know, the supply chain that we had. And we donated over 4,000 masks during that period of time. And that honestly was great because we felt like we're giving back and we're helping humanity and just people as a whole. But also it actually kept the business afloat. Now, we were growing then, but it allowed us to not have to lay off a lot of our team members, you know, to keep the team as intact, which is very important for us as our team is our family. So it's really important that we did everything we possibly could to make it through it. And then ultimately we ended up allowing this to really grow in the last five months have been the best five months we've ever done as the swag distribution platform.

We really got a feeling as we were building this platform about two years ago where we saw the transition to work from home. Now, we never thought a pandemic with it. We never thought it would take off like this. And hopefully the world gets back on track sometime soon. But we were building a platform for this work from home where people may not, we felt like they may not have to go to a trade show or they didn't want to go to the office every day. How can we build a simple process for people to be able to distribute swag, send it to remote addresses? Whether they want to send it to one address at a time or thousands at a time, we should build the platform to allow them to do that. So we've been building this process for two years and when this pandemic hit, we really had to reposition it because it was structured and formatted for a marketing team and sales teams, and we really had to kind of redevelop how we sell the platform to engage with the office manager and how they engage the remote employees to keep the company culture thriving even when no one's in the office. So there's a lot of transition and a lot of moving parts, but ultimately it ends up working for us and it's a constant grind. You know, hopefully we'll be able to keep this momentum up and keep helping our customers and allowing them to do business in such a strange time for everyone.


Chris Byers: So one of the things you touched on a couple of times there was this idea of impact, whether that's impact of making sure our organization still has the cash to pay for people's salaries and keep them going, but also opportunities to kind of give back. How do you think about what impact needs to look like from a business and how you go about it?


Jeremy Parker: It's interesting. I mean, I think we just want to sleep well at night. You want to have a feeling when you're in the office that's not just business. You know, obviously the business has to succeed and we want it to succeed for everyone within the company because that will allow people to have a great job and have longevity in their career. But it also needs to feel right. So whenever we're approaching anything, we always think, is this the right thing to do or can we help in any way?

From the very beginning of our business, we launched a program called Swag Swap. It was literally at the top even before we had a website built, we had a landing page and we had this this little link in the bottom that said Swag Swap. So our program, basically the whole idea is you buy swag from other companies or you have old swag in your closet. If you donate that swag to people in need, we'll give you a discount on new swag through us. And we baked it into the core principles of our business of how to give back even the entire process of being super curated and only offering the best and highest quality products is because, frankly, it's upsetting to see tons of things being wasted from companies and then thrown in the trash. It doesn't do the company any good. It costs the company money. It tarnishes the brand. It's not great for the environment.

So we felt like we need to change how people think of swag. It needs to be all about high quality. It's the only way this is going to work. It's they only way it's sustainable. So we're really trying to focus on quality products from the get go. It's in our DNA. And then whenever something arises where there's a challenge, we're constantly thinking, well, can we add and try to help the world in any way, in a small way? No, we're not moving the needle in such a massive way. We're still a small startup. But anything you could possibly do that I think benefits you, whether it's your team members or your customers or your community as a whole, you should strive for.


Chris Byers: So some people who are listening are probably earlier on in their career or they're running their first business. How has that changed over time and running more than one business? How is your kind of philosophy, let's say, on having an impact and being conscientious about the world changed?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know if it has changed. I think the bigger our business gets, the bigger impact theoretically you could have. But how I grew up, I was always around charity. So following my parents and being brought to different places to see the meaning, like what's important in this world is to give back, that's a big portion. Obviously, we're not a charity, we're a business, we're a startup, so our intention is to make money. But I think you can give back, you can do good things even when you do have a business and even, you know, it's not like one or the other or corporations are bad or this, like you can have a successful business. And as a business person, it's important that we make money as the first thing that we focus on. But as you get bigger, you always have a way to make a bigger impact. And I think now as we're scaling, we're hopefully going to be able to continue that, hopefully be able to hire more people, hopefully make that experience really great for our team members and really take care of them and their families and really just have them in mind. I think just constantly having your team in mind, constantly having your customers in mind and your community in mind, I think makes a better business as well.


Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit more about those experiences, that kind of maybe as you were growing up, that have informed the way you do think about having an impact.


Jeremy Parker: When I was much younger, like 11 years old, I went with my family to Israel and we went to this orphanage in Netanya in Israel. And I saw all these kids. There's hundreds of kids who didn't have a great family life who are living in this orphanage. And I went to all the different rooms. I remember I was around their age at the time. Some were a little older, some a little younger. And we became friends. I was running around with them and playing soccer with them all day. And I went to the room just to see where they were sleeping and where they're living. And I noticed that they didn't have any toys. And for me, it's such a small thing. Right. You're a kid, and I realize none of these kids had toys in the room. So I brought up to my parents and I said, you know what would be really great? My bar mitzvah, you get a bar mitzvah when you're thirteen, I said, it would be really great if I can raise money for these children and just donate. I didn't know it would turn into, just maybe raise a little bit of money and donate and buy some toys for these kids and give it to the orphanage and they could give it to the kids on their birthday or for holidays, etc.. So I launched with a friend of mine, my backyard. Remember this very vividly. We launched a carnival and it was like a small carnival with the water balloon fights and stuff like that. And we raised about a thousand dollars from the community and we ended up buying toys and we sent it to Israel. And what they did was, which is amazing, they set up a room, a small closet, like a really small closet that was called the Jeremy Parker Toy Room, right, and they put the toys in there, and then when other donors and other people came to visit this facility, this orphanage, they saw that Jeremy Parker toy room and they wanted to donate. And now it's been, I'm 35 now, so what, 22 years since then. And I visited them several times. They have this toy room. It's always been stocked and you realize just a small idea and the impact it could have on people's lives. So from very early on I realized that and kind of taking it to business. Now, obviously, I'm not running a charity, but you do constantly, always think of you know, how can you help people? I think it's just the basic instinct of how to help people. And I think if you think that way, you're going to be the best CEO you possibly could be because you're going to put yourself in situations of the people you need who are doing this with you, your team members, thinking about what they're going through, this pandemic. They're all working remotely. They're all scared. You know, everyone is nervous and trying to do whatever you can to make people as a whole, whoever you work with, have the best possible experience.


Chris Byers: Yeah, I think often in leadership, even as leaders, we often look to other people for the answer or look to other people for like what's the government going to do? What's somebody else going to do? And I love this idea that you're talking about, which is really we're the ones who can make a difference. And we can and we can make decisions. We can spend time with people to really encourage them and help them work through all the challenges that are going on right now. And I think we sometimes as leaders also think that it's business first and such. And we're not out to your point, doing charity work, but having an impact on people's lives is vital and important. Well, when we kind of take a step back and think about this year, just think about crafting a great business. We've been talking about this idea of reimagining your world of work. So what does it mean to you when I say that? What does it mean to reimagine work?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know. I say I'm constantly thinking about that and how the world will change and how it has changed already and how I don't know if it will ever go back to what it was. We have our office in New York City. We haven't got rid of it. We just actually got it. Three months before the pandemic on a three year lease, we have one or two people go into the office every day. We have a team of 26 in New York and people are scared. So I don't know. I'm not going to ever force them to go back in the office until there's a vaccine, until people feel safe. So we have been able to work remotely and it's been actually we've been able to to manage it.

I love working in the office. I love the creativity of the office. You're by the watercooler, you go to the kitchen and you just bump into somebody you might not ever really talk to, you know I'm the CEO so I'm dealing a lot with the executives. And you might not talk to every single person in the company at all times, but just being able to see people's face, have a conversation, you know, something sparks an idea and then it leads down the rabbit hole. Then you book a conference room and now you're speaking about something your never thought about speaking about for three hours. And that happens. And that stuff is really exciting. I love that. I love that creativity in that environment. And we're missing that. I've been trying to keep it as much as possible. It's not easy. And what I've been doing personally is I message different team members, unannounced, unscheduled, and just start talking to them. And the conversation could be a minute. It could be five minutes, could be half an hour. But try to get people to feel more connected, try to replicate that office environment and the office feel.

And I think a lot of people are going through this where they're not sure what's going to happen in the future. They may do partially back in the office, you know, maybe all remote. And I think we just have to be constantly adapting and looking at how the market reacts. That's really it. Just looking how our customers and our customers are office managers, HR managers, how are they doing business. And we have to make our service useful for them. Our whole business is trying to make their lives a lot easier. So right now it's a wide distribution platform. This is saving people a ton of time instead of having to ship products to their office or now to their home, packaged things up themselves and they go to the UPS store and ship it all over the place. We handle everything for them. Instead of having an office manager or somebody is launching a virtual event, have to gather everyone's address. Who's attending that event? We've built solutions that allow people to capture that information with t-shirt size the recipient is and try to humanize virtual events through a platform. But as the world changes and continues to shift, we'll constantly have to have our finger on the pulse and constantly keep developing and making the experience better for all of our customers.


Chris Byers: As you think about working at home more often, one of the things that means is that less and less people get to see what you're doing everyday. How does your personal life even play out at work? Tell us about a day in your life? What does that look like?


Jeremy Parker: So now I just actually had a baby, my first child in July, so it's a lot of stuff going on during this pandemic. I ended up ultimately moving with my wife and my child into my parents house, because New York City at the onset of the pandemic was very scary, it wasn't a place that we wanted to be. So we left for a couple of months, ultimately moved back to the city, had the baby. Now we're living back in Jersey in our own place, we're getting used to this new, this new normal. I'm waking up a lot earlier. I have the baby still in my room. I take about an hour to an hour and a half walk or run every single morning trying to clear my head, get into the office eight thirty nine o'clock and do all my calls, have my lead designers based in London. So I do an hour design call with them every morning. Our tech team is based in Ukraine. They're seven hours ahead. So I do an hour tech call with our CTO who's based in Ukraine. I do those two calls because for me that's my passion, it's what I'm most interested in is the product, the user experience, what features we need to build, how to solve problems, constantly talking to our customer success team and our team and trying to understand because they really have the best finger on the pulse at this point.

You know, four years ago, five years ago, when we started the business, I knew exactly what our customers wanted because I was the one talking to our customers on a daily basis. Now it's we have a team doing that. And it's very important that I'm always in the loop in understanding what features we don't have or what we can make better or what's not clear to trying to really understand that through our customer successes and our operations is to make the backend work simpler for them to process more. So we don't have to throw people at problems, which a lot of companies do, and we could streamline it and make it automated and simple. So keep the team super lean, but do five, 10 times the work that we're currently doing and that's our goal.

But then really taking that information from our team and learning from our team as much as we can and bringing and trying to manage the process with the user experience in design. And in the second half of the day, it's like every other CEO's job, managing issues, problem solving, talking to potential partners, thinking outside the box and trying to come up with long term solutions, fundraising, etc.. So it's busy, and it feels it's even gotten busier since we've been home because it feels like there is no break, really. So it's constant and it might not be healthy, but it's what needs to happen during this kind of changing time. I think for right now, especially for our business, we've been growing tremendously fast, you know, going from 350,000 a month in March to two million, approximately two million last month and the month before, 1.4 million, which is the first time we ever broke a million the previous month before that was 992,000. So really scaling up, really growing and having the exact same team that's doing it. So a lot of challenges come up with a lot of problems. And that's what we're excited about. We love when challenges happen because it means we're on the right path and now we're doing something is difficult and it means that we're doing something that it was difficult for other people. They're not doing it. We should be the ones doing it and really trying to streamline our entire experience.


Chris Byers: I think you're right that there's so much I think everybody is experiencing right now the odd feeling of like I'm at home, I'm out doing things less, but somehow I feel like I'm working more or I'm busier than ever. And so I do think those things like you suggested or are doing yourself, getting out and and running or walking or whatever for an hour like those are those are really good practices to help keep our minds kind of focused and keep us from being one hundred percent work all the time, because that can definitely be taxing. You know, we talk about creating a digitally agile workforce and you obviously use technology all day, every day to accomplish what you're doing. Tell us about that technology. What are you doing to kind of stay competitive, stay ahead of the competition?


Jeremy Parker: Yes. So everything on our site is pretty much fully custom. So we're constantly not really looking at our competitors. Honestly, I didn't look at any of our competitors until year two because I didn't want to be led in a certain way that maybe they were doing something. And I would probably have to believe that they're doing it because it's the right way to do it. So we took a really kind of a simple approach, like don't even look at our competitors for the first version of the platform. Let's just talk to our customers and design a platform that we would think makes the most sense really from the ground up. So that's what we did. And I think it's allowed us to think of the whole industry a little bit different than everyone else is thinking of it. So that's been really great.

But then you kind of start layering different features and different functionality. So we've added Intercom, which has been probably our best tool that we use to engage with our customers. All of our customers are inbound and a lot of our customers check out without speaking to anybody, which is awesome. And a lot of our customers need to ask questions, which is totally great. It's like, is this product going to come out in time? Is it going to look perfect? You know, they want to feel confident before they check out with a large order, especially if they're buying it on behalf of their company. A lot's on the line. So having Intercom has been an incredibly vital tool for us to really engage with our customers in real time, answer their questions and get them to feel confident with ordering.

Obviously all the backend features, backend platforms like HubSpot and Marketo really trying to automate the marketing because our team is very limited. How do you engage with your best customers? How do you convert them and give them a great experience, so trying to just use as many tools, that doesn't make sense for us to build and all the things that are proprietary to us that is unique to us, that we want to own everything. So really trying to focus and build that right platform from day one and constantly listen to our customers as much as possible and constantly keep building and building, building so we chip away at it all like a blocking and tackling set. You get to a point where things are going to be really challenging and then when it's really challenging, you make it better and then there could be other challenges. So it's never going to be an end. And as long as you keep trying to innovate and push forward and do things that other people are not doing or do things that really makes sense for your customers, it's never going to get easy. But that's what I love about it. That's why we're in this business, to challenge ourselves and to grow and to build something better than what's out there.


Chris Byers: I think you've got some advice in there that sounds really interesting. And it sounds like there's times where it's valuable to go explore, like what's someone else in the world doing and maybe you want to repeat that. So what's everybody else doing for marketing automation? Let me go get some HubSpot. But then there's times where it sounds like you're saying it's actually smarter to not observe what else is going on in the world, but maybe simply sit and experience your problem, try to understand your problem and solve it in the way that you think is right. Can you describe that a little bit more?


Jeremy Parker: That's 100 percent right. In the very beginning of the business, I was doing a little bit of research before I really stopped myself. And you start to look at what else is out there. And at some point I was designing like a rabbit hole. I was designing the wrong experience and I knew it was the wrong experience. I was basing it on other customers and trying to make their experience better. And I kept finding myself like, why do I even have to do that? Like, shouldn't you be thinking about the big picture of if I was a customer and I landed on a promotional product site, what would I want the experience to be? And I didn't really know the answer to that. So I figured let me just speak to as many customers as possible and don't have this preconceived idea of what the right idea is. I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, you always either think you need to have the right idea from day one, which is not true, or that you have to feel that ego that it has to be my idea, which is not true.

I think as an entrepreneur and starting a business, you have to be totally OK with other people's opinion. You might not like the opinions. You might not have to agree with opinions, but you should be super open to it and you can't be fearful of starting something even if you had no idea. And I always say to friends of mine who are nervous, I don't have the right idea or is it going to work or not. If you really, truly believe that you're going to ultimately get the right idea, then just go out there, because it's never going to be what you expected from day one. You know, in a lot of times, fear kills more dreams than failure ever could. A lot of people are just scared of doing something, scared of putting themselves out there, scared of internally their mind, the people thinking of them as a failure. But if you can remove that fear, anything is possible. You're unlimited, it's like a superpower. Like if you're OK failing and you're learning and, you know, ultimately you're going to fail a thousand times, but you believe in yourself and you believe that you make it better and eventually you will succeed. It's a superpower. You're unstoppable. So I like to think I try to get into that mentality always and totally be OK with it. And even a lot of employees who are this is the first time they've ever joined a startup. And it was hard to break them out of their their notion of, oh, something's going wrong, things are really bad. It's OK if things go wrong, as long as you solve it. No one expects you to be one hundred percent perfect from day one. We're a startup, we're growing, we're learning. But as long as we constantly do our best effort, chip away at the problems, keep building as more problems arise, figure out a solution and fix it. You know, we're five years old. We're still having tons of issues, but we have a lot less issues now than we did a year ago. And we have different issues now. And then five months from now, we'll have a lot less issues than we had now and there'll be other issues. So it's just constantly being OK with that failure, in that case being, you know, it's all for a greater purpose.


Chris Byers: You know, I think that's wonderful advice. It was actually Joel Sapolsky who really opened my eyes. I was six months into the job and I took it over from our founder and a good friend of mine. But I was trying to run the business for a long time thinking like, oh, what would he do? Because it's been successful so far because he's been here. And Joel talked about this idea where he had the exact same experience with stock exchange. And at some point he was like, oh, this has to be my vision. And what that means is if it's my vision that I may fall flat on my face tomorrow, but that's the only way I can know how to actually go forward, because I know I am motivated. I know why I want to solve the problem. And I can't tell you how many times I've had to come back to this idea that I can't worry about what other people's expectations are or what I think the next smarter CEO might do in this case. I've got to say, I'm going to own this problem. And if I fail tomorrow, well, at least I know why I failed and why I chose to to make the decisions. I love that thinking.


Jeremy Parker: You have to think that way. And it's really I think for me, it's I'm lucky. I feel very lucky. I got to a place where I'm totally OK with failure. And I think once you get to that mentality, then I'm OK with failure ultimately, but I'm OK failing on a daily basis because. I feel like when you're failing more, the more you fail, the further you're getting to ultimately get to the right place and with the right solution is so it's totally ok. It's just a part of the process. And as long as you know it's part of the process, then nothing could derail you.


Chris Byers: I think that's so applicable not just to leaders or the senior leader of an organization, but to leaders all across the organization. The moment you are willing to say, I'm going to do something and take enough risk and I'm OK failing, that's the moment you're really going to move forward. If you're always just trying to think, what are the rules, what are the best way to do this that I think somebody else wants me to do, it's always going to hold you back. So I think it's wonderful advice. As we kind of begin to wrap up the conversation, we've talked about this idea that really can be overwhelming in some ways. And I'm curious, where do you think people should start when they think about starting a business or how do they get just going and take those first steps?


Jeremy Parker: Find an industry that you're passionate about. You don't have to have the right solution, but find something that you're passionate about. Because what's going to happen is if you ever get hit in the face and at startups, you are going to get smacked in the face thousands of times on a daily basis. A lot of people I've seen start businesses. And then the first issue, they pack it up and they're over it. For a business to succeed, it's going to take many, many years. Whatever you're doing, you're going to be in it for many, many years until you get to that successful outcome that you'll ultimately want. Or it could be forever. Could be your whole life depends on really what you want to do with it. So I think really find the industry that you're super passionate about and then just be OK with not knowing what the right answer is. You know, be OK with learning, be open minded, start to talk to all customers. Your idea from day one might completely change on the second week or the third week, and it might pivot in the third year like things are constantly going to be evolving and changing and just be open minded to maybe not knowing what the right answer is. But as long as you feel like you're on the path or you're eager to find the right answer, you're going to find it. You're going to figure it out. You know, it's never over until it's over. It's unlimited what you could possibly do. So I would just say, put yourself out there. Don't be scared of failure. Try to learn as much as possible and constantly move and pivot as much as you can until you get to a place where it's right.


Chris Byers: Well, I've got a handful of kind of rapid fire questions to kind of end up on. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity in your business processes?


Jeremy Parker: Simplicity. I always think, I don't know if it's simplicity, but I always think of consistency. I think a lot of people in this world are not necessarily consistent. As long as you're consistent and you're working really hard and you're working towards a problem and trying to figure out a solution every single day. And you might have great days and you might have really bad days. But as long as you're consistent more days than you're not consistent, you'll ultimately get to the place where you want to be. So trying to simplify it, trying to be really focused on what the main goal is, you know, not get distracted by too many things, really try to say what's the ultimate goal? What's my North Star, as they say, and really trying to be laser focused on that and consistently laser focus on it until you get it to be really right.


Chris Byers: And tell us, what's your go to productivity tip is.


Jeremy Parker: For me, it's honestly running. I run in the morning, I have to clear my head. It allows me to be way more productive throughout the day. I think if I just started the day and went into the office, my head will be all over the place. So I think having a clear mind going into it, really think from like the bird's eye view every single day and kind of resetting yourself and try to understand what the main objectives are. And what I do is once I get into the office before I even open on my computer, before I talk to anybody, I write down all the ideas I've been thinking about on that run to make sure I don't forget it and try to organize my day in some ways, like what's the big picture ideas and what's kind of more of the granular things. And I think just having a to do list, having a clear head and a to do list, you could constantly feel like you're checking things off the box and you start getting those early wins. It could be something very simple as just like you have a call with the tech team, you do every day. But being able to check it off the list makes you feel like you're accomplishing something and you're getting to your next phase. So building on wins, I think is very important.


Chris Byers: All right. And how will you be reimagining your work moving forward?


Jeremy Parker: We have a really good game plan for the next six months. Now, obviously, the world could change dramatically again. So we will have to always keep our finger on the pulse. But for us, it's really trying to focus on the distribution. We've really streamlined the entire experience of buying swag. Now it's about making the entire experience of distributing swag automated and simple and streamlined. And that means once we have this swag distribution platform really to where it needs to be and now we're about eighty five percent of where the ultimate vision of it is, then how do you automate the distribution? So, you know, integrating into HubSpot in Marketo and Salesforce or Justworks or HR solutions and allowing people to kind of set it and forget it. Like a person's birthday, be able to automatically send them swag, a person's five year anniversary, send them swag. Somebody hasn't responded to your email, press a button in Salesforce and sends them swag to kind of close the deal. Somebody fills out a form or attends one of your events through Marketo or HubSpot, it automatically triggers a notification to send them something. Try to figure out a process for people to buy swag up front once, say, in the programs, decide how they want and who should be getting stuff based on triggers and then just kind of let the magic happen and allow it to be super automated. So that's ultimately where our goal is and we're hoping to get to that place by middle of next year.


Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up this episode featuring Jeremy Parker, there's a handful of things that I just heard that I thought were really powerful. One is it's really important for you to find a problem that you care about. If you can find that problem, get focused on it, be consistent, spend time with it, you're going to get somewhere and you're going to solve some cool problems in the world. Have a willingness to fail and willingness to kind of learn from that and move on and keep moving toward success, but have those daily failures so you can get to the long term success. Find ways to clear your mind, whether it's running or something else that helps you get away from the day to day so your thoughts can actually get organized and get kind of cleaned up and you can get focused on what's really important.

Thank you for joining us for this episode and season, we'll be back next year with new guests, new topics, and even more ways to reimagine work. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to get new episodes when they drop, or head to formstack.com/podcasts to catch up on any episodes you missed.

Collecting payments with online forms is easy, but first, you have to choose the right payment gateway. Browse the providers in our gateway credit card processing comparison chart to find the best option for your business. Then sign up for Formstack Forms, customize your payment forms, and start collecting profits in minutes.

Online Payment Gateway Comparison Chart

NOTE: These amounts reflect the monthly subscription for the payment provider. Formstack does not charge a fee to integrate with any of our payment partners.

FEATURES
Authorize.Net
Bambora
Chargify
First Data
PayPal
PayPal Pro
PayPal Payflow
Stripe
WePay
ProPay
Monthly Fees
$25
$25
$149+
Contact First Data
$0
$25
$0-$25
$0
$0
$4
Transaction Fees
$2.9% + 30¢
$2.9% + 30¢
N/A
Contact First Data
$2.9% + 30¢
$2.9% + 30¢
10¢
$2.9% + 30¢
$2.9% + 30¢
$2.6% + 30¢
Countries
5
8
Based on payment gateway
50+
203
3
4
25
USA
USA
Currencies
11
2
23
140
25
23
25
135+
1
1
Card Types
6
13
Based on payment gateway
5
9
9
5
6
4
4
Limits
None
None
Based on payment gateway
None
$10,000
None
None
None
None
$500 per transaction
Form Payments
Recurring Billing
Mobile Payments
PSD2 Compliant

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. And in this episode, we are talking with Jeremy Parker. He is the CEO and co-founder of Swag.com. It's an e-commerce platform for purchasing promotional materials.

Jeremy is passionate about creating a conscientious business, serving the best interest of his employees and customers. And in our conversation, we're going to dig into how he's built a responsible business model while experiencing exponential growth, particularly during a time where others in his industry are declining. How has he reimagined his work and Swag.com's ability to grow. Let's find out.

Jeremy, welcome to Ripple Effect.


Jeremy Parker: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.


Chris Byers: As we get started, I'd love to hear and love for you to share with our listeners your background. How did you get to Swag.com, what's some history there that got you to today?

Jeremy Parker: Yes, I started as a filmmaker. I went to Boston University. I was a documentary filmmaker. I really went to college specifically for marketing or so I thought. And when I went to BU and I was looking at the course curriculum, I looked at the film program and the marketing program, I realized that they were pretty much exactly the same thing except for film. I will learn how to make videos and tell stories through videos. And this is at the onset when YouTube is starting. And I figured that's the really the way to go. And during my time there, I created a feature length documentary called One Percent that ultimately ended up winning the audience award at the Vail Film Festival, a really big film festival. And I remember I was in Vail and after the awards ceremony and I go down to the celebrity or quote unquote celebrity brunch and half the room was celebrities and half the room were these these artists, struggling artists. And I realized I had to kind of do an internal gut check, do I want this to be my life? It was a very weird flight home, you know, going back to Boston, going back to to college where I was, had pretty much the highs of the high you could get to in this independent film world. But I really realized that this was not the path for me or wasn't what I truly loved and what I wanted to do.

So after college, I started my first company and I had no business experience whatsoever. So I thought, what business can I start that I could learn all the different aspects of business? So I thought starting a t-shirt company, I could learn how to build an e-commerce site and how to do the marketing and how to do production, manufacturing and all the different aspects of business. I did this for about two years; I launched it in 2007. So if you could remember 2007, this is when all the banks were going under. It was a really bad time, especially for really high end t-shirts. And we were selling two hundred t-shirts to different boutiques all around the world. And these boutiques just ended up closing a lot of them. And what we did was we started a marketing, kind of gimmicky now that I think about it, but at the time I tied the prices of our shirts to the price of the Dow Jones. So for every hundred points the Dow dropped, the customers would get a discount on the t-shirt price. And it's a little gimmicky, but it ended up getting picked up by Mark Cuban's blog, Blog Maverick, which got a lot of eyeballs and then ultimately got picked up by Ad Age, which ran the whole feature on the story and how we're able to pivot during this really difficult period of time. And it got on the radar of this guy, Eliot Peyser.

Eliot Peyser is the CEO of Weatherproof Garment Company. And I ended up meeting with Eliot and we became friends.  I would show up as office, you know, once a week for a period of time and just kind of spit ball ideas. He was a very creative guy and we were just throwing ideas against the wall. And they also owned another business called MV Sport. Now MV Sport is one of the largest players in the promotional product space. Now, I had no knowledge of this promotional product space. I had no clue what it was. I didn't know anything about it. This was around 2009 at the time. But being around Eliot and going to different events and trade shows with Eliot, I realized that it was kind of a missing piece in this industry. So I started a creative division under MV Sport really about twelve years ago, thirteen years ago at this point. And I learned a lot about the industry as a whole, who the buyer was, what the problems of the industry were. And then you fast forward 10 years. I've done a lot of different things from starting a company with my brother and Jesse Esler that ultimately ended up selling to a publicly traded company that was around social media influencers.

I found myself ultimately always constantly thinking about the swag space and how there hasn't really been a player that's reimagined it or innovated it at all. And the aha moment of starting Swag was the industries remain old, fragmented, and broken. But the buyer changed. And once I realized that the buyer is no longer this forty, fifty year old office manager and it's a millennial buyer. Well how do you build a platform really focus on today's buyer. So 2016, started Swag.com. We've grown five years in a row. We were just named the 218th fastest growing company on the Inc 500 in 2020. We have over five thousand customers from Facebook and Google and Amazon and Netflix and Spotify and TikTok to much smaller companies. And we're really trying to streamline the entire experience, making it really easy for customers to not only find what they're looking for, design it, and buy it in a matter of seconds, but also send it out and distribute it to all of their remote employees, all of their best customers, all of their leads. So a really robust swag management and distribution platform, all in one.


Chris Byers: Well, that is an amazing story and I love the gist. Well, the story of how you used the Dow Jones kind of going up and down to change pricing, like just love the unique kind of thinking there. And it's funny you made the point you didn't know how to start a business or you didn't know what starting a business was like. And yet I actually think that's probably what's giving you the freedom to build a great business is not having a bunch of rules that you were trying to follow, but rather, how do I just see a problem and go try to work against it and make make some impact? What do you think keeps you motivated to kind of continue to build businesses?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, I always think about this. A lot of people ask me that question. I'm constantly thinking about it. It's not to make money. I'm not really that kind of person who's like, I need to make more money, make it bigger and bigger. It's kind of an internal thing. You know, I see a problem and I want to fix it. I'm like, I'm a tinkerer, I'm more of a creative in that way of trying to see the big problem, how people are doing it and trying to do it in a different way. That, I think is the right way of making people's lives a lot easier. You know, swag, it seems like such a a non-sexy industry. No one really thinks to get into the promotional product space. Many people actually think of it as throwaway items. And I want to combat that because swag is such a powerful marketing tool if it's done right. And that's a big caveat. If it's done right, it needs to be high quality. People need to get it and actually want to keep it and they want to use it. And then it's really valuable. You know, you think of in general a lot of marketing initiatives. And you watch TV and you fast forward through commercials. Right. People are trained to avoid ads at all costs. You're browsing the internet and you put the ad blocker and and it blocks those ads, or you're looking through a magazine and you flip through the ads, you want to get to the content. People are programmatically set at this point to avoid ads at all costs. And with swag, what do you say when somebody gives you a really high quality piece of products or something you say thank you. It really does make an impact when you give them something that they're actually going to value.

So my entire business, it was from the very beginning, was really focused on, well, let's curate the best of what's out there. You know, I don't need to offer a thousand pens, a thousand notebooks. Let's curate. Let's make it really easy for customers to find what they're looking for and make sure that every single thing on our site is quality. But then who has time to look through these big catalogs and wasting paper and all these things that just doesn't make any sense. Let them streamline it. Let them find it. Upload their logo. Our system detects how many colors are in the logo. Click a button, checkout, click a button and send it to a thousand different addresses. I want it in the marketing closet or sales closet. A London office. New York office. You could break it down by department location, permission settings, approval flows, automate the entire experience and just free up your time. You shouldn't be wasting your time on swag. So we want to really streamline the entire experience for everybody we know.


Chris Byers: You're beginning to talk about something that I think is is really important. And it's really how does the user experience impact not only your ability as a business owner, founder, CEO, grow the business, but as a way to kind of give people an easy way to get the job done? I can't tell you how much I see where user experience just completely blocks kind of a company's ability to grow and kind of serve their customers because... It doesn't even have to be hard stuff. It can be things that are just like tedious and that extra few seconds. But every day, like, it'll tax you over time and eventually causes you to to not want to buy or not want to use the product. And there's almost probably a granular in the weeds thing that you're talking about that not everybody always realizes they need to do. Sometimes as a CEO, you kind of think, oh, I cast vision and all that, but at times you do need to kind of get into the weeds. How do you think about that?


Jeremy Parker: One hundred percent. I mean, when we started this business, I was not only CEO, I was head of product, I was head intern, I was head deliveryman. You have to do everything, especially at the very beginning. You have very limited resources. I'll tell you the story of when we started. So our first customer ever was Facebook, which sounds crazy to think that your first customer is such a big company, but that was by design. When we started the business, we realized we had this amazing Swag.com brand name, which took us about nine months to get. And we had no website and we frankly didn't know exactly the right experience to build. My experience in promotional products, fourteen years ago, things were very fragmented, stale, and broken, but it changed a little bit. And I wanted to do the first year just kind of a deep dive on who the customer really is and understand what product we should actually be building. So we were traveling salesman and I would knock on doors and would go to big offices and I would look at, reach out to all my LinkedIn friends and see where they worked and even if they didn't buy swag, but just try to get into the office. This is really what we did for Facebook. We got into the office through a friend and we walked up and down the hallways just meeting people and speaking to people until somebody want to buy something from us, and it didn't matter about how much money we were going to make, it was just trying to learn from the customer and get those row of logos, that social proof.

The second day I went to work and when they asked us who else we work with, I said Facebook. And they probably assume we work with thousands of other customers. But really, it was their second day of sales. And we work just with Facebook and we repeat that cycle to get that row of logos of blue chip companies. Really do the unscalable things. In the beginning, you have to do everything. It's unscalable. We had no platform, but then we learned as much as we could that first year, built this automated ecommerce experience and really grew it, you know, going from 350,000 the first year to 1.1 million through the ecommerce site, the second year to 3.1 million to 6.9 million, consistently growing. And what's interesting is this year is the first year we're going to break 10 million in sales in the pandemic, but the first year we ever hired a salesperson, all of our sales came completely inbound, no outbound whatsoever. And we had two customer service reps handling all those orders. So our entire vision from the very beginning was there's so much friction, there's so many roadblocks, so many hurdles that people have to do. Traditionally with selling of these promotional products, how can we streamline everything, whether it's our end of how to process orders to make our jobs a lot easier so we could scale infinitely amount like we could go from 500,000 dollars a month to three million dollars another month and have the same exact team. How many sales can we actually convert with like a two person team? And that's what we've been trying to do, keep it as super lean as possible, but really allow ourselves to grow. And what's exciting is, you know, in March when the pandemic hit, we were doing about 350,000 in sales. And now last month we did about 2 million in sales and we have pretty much the same exact team. So it just shows that we're able to grow now and scale and automate the experience of not only customers, but for our team to process more orders. But you have to start from from ground one. You're not going to have that process from the day one. So you have to learn as much as possible and you have to be OK doing those hard chores or the things that maybe doesn't sound fun or sexy or exciting. You have to, you know, roll up your sleeves.


Chris Byers: That is truly great to hear how you've thought about that. I'm curious, you've obviously at this point experienced in business a couple of major either recessions or like that, even whether it's a blip or something, recession or whatever, this year. How have you been able to kind of navigate through that? And how have you approached when you've seen those moments coming?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, it's hard. It's not I'm not going to say it was easy or I had the answer. You know, when the pandemic hit, it really hurt our business. It hurt our whole industry. The whole promotional product industry is down upwards of 44% this year versus last year. And it makes sense on the surface.

You know, we had the HR manager for a company buying swag for internal use to give to onboarding of new hires. And no one's hiring right now or you have the marketing team buying for trade shows. There are no trade shows going on. Or you're the office manager buying for the swag office or company culture in the office and no one's in the office. So on the surface, when you're faced with that and you go from 200,000 dollars the first week of March and sales of 19,000 the second week, you really have to do an internal gut check and say, what do we have that could win in this space? Like how how can we adapt? And we've done a lot of things and we threw a lot of things at the wall and some things worked and some things really didn't work.

You know, we were the first ones that I know of to start really selling masks. And right when it came out selling blank masks, it was actually the only product we ever sold on our site that you didn't have to upload your logo on. Our site is all about customization, and we started offering just masks. A lot of our suppliers, you know, repurpose their facilities to make masks. And we felt like we have this huge database and infrastructure of suppliers that we could really be of help. So we launched this mask program for every 100 masks that are bought, We donate 10 to people in need, you know, front line workers, homeless shelters, different people who we can help because we knew a lot of people were very nervous and didn't have, you know, the supply chain that we had. And we donated over 4,000 masks during that period of time. And that honestly was great because we felt like we're giving back and we're helping humanity and just people as a whole. But also it actually kept the business afloat. Now, we were growing then, but it allowed us to not have to lay off a lot of our team members, you know, to keep the team as intact, which is very important for us as our team is our family. So it's really important that we did everything we possibly could to make it through it. And then ultimately we ended up allowing this to really grow in the last five months have been the best five months we've ever done as the swag distribution platform.

We really got a feeling as we were building this platform about two years ago where we saw the transition to work from home. Now, we never thought a pandemic with it. We never thought it would take off like this. And hopefully the world gets back on track sometime soon. But we were building a platform for this work from home where people may not, we felt like they may not have to go to a trade show or they didn't want to go to the office every day. How can we build a simple process for people to be able to distribute swag, send it to remote addresses? Whether they want to send it to one address at a time or thousands at a time, we should build the platform to allow them to do that. So we've been building this process for two years and when this pandemic hit, we really had to reposition it because it was structured and formatted for a marketing team and sales teams, and we really had to kind of redevelop how we sell the platform to engage with the office manager and how they engage the remote employees to keep the company culture thriving even when no one's in the office. So there's a lot of transition and a lot of moving parts, but ultimately it ends up working for us and it's a constant grind. You know, hopefully we'll be able to keep this momentum up and keep helping our customers and allowing them to do business in such a strange time for everyone.


Chris Byers: So one of the things you touched on a couple of times there was this idea of impact, whether that's impact of making sure our organization still has the cash to pay for people's salaries and keep them going, but also opportunities to kind of give back. How do you think about what impact needs to look like from a business and how you go about it?


Jeremy Parker: It's interesting. I mean, I think we just want to sleep well at night. You want to have a feeling when you're in the office that's not just business. You know, obviously the business has to succeed and we want it to succeed for everyone within the company because that will allow people to have a great job and have longevity in their career. But it also needs to feel right. So whenever we're approaching anything, we always think, is this the right thing to do or can we help in any way?

From the very beginning of our business, we launched a program called Swag Swap. It was literally at the top even before we had a website built, we had a landing page and we had this this little link in the bottom that said Swag Swap. So our program, basically the whole idea is you buy swag from other companies or you have old swag in your closet. If you donate that swag to people in need, we'll give you a discount on new swag through us. And we baked it into the core principles of our business of how to give back even the entire process of being super curated and only offering the best and highest quality products is because, frankly, it's upsetting to see tons of things being wasted from companies and then thrown in the trash. It doesn't do the company any good. It costs the company money. It tarnishes the brand. It's not great for the environment.

So we felt like we need to change how people think of swag. It needs to be all about high quality. It's the only way this is going to work. It's they only way it's sustainable. So we're really trying to focus on quality products from the get go. It's in our DNA. And then whenever something arises where there's a challenge, we're constantly thinking, well, can we add and try to help the world in any way, in a small way? No, we're not moving the needle in such a massive way. We're still a small startup. But anything you could possibly do that I think benefits you, whether it's your team members or your customers or your community as a whole, you should strive for.


Chris Byers: So some people who are listening are probably earlier on in their career or they're running their first business. How has that changed over time and running more than one business? How is your kind of philosophy, let's say, on having an impact and being conscientious about the world changed?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know if it has changed. I think the bigger our business gets, the bigger impact theoretically you could have. But how I grew up, I was always around charity. So following my parents and being brought to different places to see the meaning, like what's important in this world is to give back, that's a big portion. Obviously, we're not a charity, we're a business, we're a startup, so our intention is to make money. But I think you can give back, you can do good things even when you do have a business and even, you know, it's not like one or the other or corporations are bad or this, like you can have a successful business. And as a business person, it's important that we make money as the first thing that we focus on. But as you get bigger, you always have a way to make a bigger impact. And I think now as we're scaling, we're hopefully going to be able to continue that, hopefully be able to hire more people, hopefully make that experience really great for our team members and really take care of them and their families and really just have them in mind. I think just constantly having your team in mind, constantly having your customers in mind and your community in mind, I think makes a better business as well.


Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit more about those experiences, that kind of maybe as you were growing up, that have informed the way you do think about having an impact.


Jeremy Parker: When I was much younger, like 11 years old, I went with my family to Israel and we went to this orphanage in Netanya in Israel. And I saw all these kids. There's hundreds of kids who didn't have a great family life who are living in this orphanage. And I went to all the different rooms. I remember I was around their age at the time. Some were a little older, some a little younger. And we became friends. I was running around with them and playing soccer with them all day. And I went to the room just to see where they were sleeping and where they're living. And I noticed that they didn't have any toys. And for me, it's such a small thing. Right. You're a kid, and I realize none of these kids had toys in the room. So I brought up to my parents and I said, you know what would be really great? My bar mitzvah, you get a bar mitzvah when you're thirteen, I said, it would be really great if I can raise money for these children and just donate. I didn't know it would turn into, just maybe raise a little bit of money and donate and buy some toys for these kids and give it to the orphanage and they could give it to the kids on their birthday or for holidays, etc.. So I launched with a friend of mine, my backyard. Remember this very vividly. We launched a carnival and it was like a small carnival with the water balloon fights and stuff like that. And we raised about a thousand dollars from the community and we ended up buying toys and we sent it to Israel. And what they did was, which is amazing, they set up a room, a small closet, like a really small closet that was called the Jeremy Parker Toy Room, right, and they put the toys in there, and then when other donors and other people came to visit this facility, this orphanage, they saw that Jeremy Parker toy room and they wanted to donate. And now it's been, I'm 35 now, so what, 22 years since then. And I visited them several times. They have this toy room. It's always been stocked and you realize just a small idea and the impact it could have on people's lives. So from very early on I realized that and kind of taking it to business. Now, obviously, I'm not running a charity, but you do constantly, always think of you know, how can you help people? I think it's just the basic instinct of how to help people. And I think if you think that way, you're going to be the best CEO you possibly could be because you're going to put yourself in situations of the people you need who are doing this with you, your team members, thinking about what they're going through, this pandemic. They're all working remotely. They're all scared. You know, everyone is nervous and trying to do whatever you can to make people as a whole, whoever you work with, have the best possible experience.


Chris Byers: Yeah, I think often in leadership, even as leaders, we often look to other people for the answer or look to other people for like what's the government going to do? What's somebody else going to do? And I love this idea that you're talking about, which is really we're the ones who can make a difference. And we can and we can make decisions. We can spend time with people to really encourage them and help them work through all the challenges that are going on right now. And I think we sometimes as leaders also think that it's business first and such. And we're not out to your point, doing charity work, but having an impact on people's lives is vital and important. Well, when we kind of take a step back and think about this year, just think about crafting a great business. We've been talking about this idea of reimagining your world of work. So what does it mean to you when I say that? What does it mean to reimagine work?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know. I say I'm constantly thinking about that and how the world will change and how it has changed already and how I don't know if it will ever go back to what it was. We have our office in New York City. We haven't got rid of it. We just actually got it. Three months before the pandemic on a three year lease, we have one or two people go into the office every day. We have a team of 26 in New York and people are scared. So I don't know. I'm not going to ever force them to go back in the office until there's a vaccine, until people feel safe. So we have been able to work remotely and it's been actually we've been able to to manage it.

I love working in the office. I love the creativity of the office. You're by the watercooler, you go to the kitchen and you just bump into somebody you might not ever really talk to, you know I'm the CEO so I'm dealing a lot with the executives. And you might not talk to every single person in the company at all times, but just being able to see people's face, have a conversation, you know, something sparks an idea and then it leads down the rabbit hole. Then you book a conference room and now you're speaking about something your never thought about speaking about for three hours. And that happens. And that stuff is really exciting. I love that. I love that creativity in that environment. And we're missing that. I've been trying to keep it as much as possible. It's not easy. And what I've been doing personally is I message different team members, unannounced, unscheduled, and just start talking to them. And the conversation could be a minute. It could be five minutes, could be half an hour. But try to get people to feel more connected, try to replicate that office environment and the office feel.

And I think a lot of people are going through this where they're not sure what's going to happen in the future. They may do partially back in the office, you know, maybe all remote. And I think we just have to be constantly adapting and looking at how the market reacts. That's really it. Just looking how our customers and our customers are office managers, HR managers, how are they doing business. And we have to make our service useful for them. Our whole business is trying to make their lives a lot easier. So right now it's a wide distribution platform. This is saving people a ton of time instead of having to ship products to their office or now to their home, packaged things up themselves and they go to the UPS store and ship it all over the place. We handle everything for them. Instead of having an office manager or somebody is launching a virtual event, have to gather everyone's address. Who's attending that event? We've built solutions that allow people to capture that information with t-shirt size the recipient is and try to humanize virtual events through a platform. But as the world changes and continues to shift, we'll constantly have to have our finger on the pulse and constantly keep developing and making the experience better for all of our customers.


Chris Byers: As you think about working at home more often, one of the things that means is that less and less people get to see what you're doing everyday. How does your personal life even play out at work? Tell us about a day in your life? What does that look like?


Jeremy Parker: So now I just actually had a baby, my first child in July, so it's a lot of stuff going on during this pandemic. I ended up ultimately moving with my wife and my child into my parents house, because New York City at the onset of the pandemic was very scary, it wasn't a place that we wanted to be. So we left for a couple of months, ultimately moved back to the city, had the baby. Now we're living back in Jersey in our own place, we're getting used to this new, this new normal. I'm waking up a lot earlier. I have the baby still in my room. I take about an hour to an hour and a half walk or run every single morning trying to clear my head, get into the office eight thirty nine o'clock and do all my calls, have my lead designers based in London. So I do an hour design call with them every morning. Our tech team is based in Ukraine. They're seven hours ahead. So I do an hour tech call with our CTO who's based in Ukraine. I do those two calls because for me that's my passion, it's what I'm most interested in is the product, the user experience, what features we need to build, how to solve problems, constantly talking to our customer success team and our team and trying to understand because they really have the best finger on the pulse at this point.

You know, four years ago, five years ago, when we started the business, I knew exactly what our customers wanted because I was the one talking to our customers on a daily basis. Now it's we have a team doing that. And it's very important that I'm always in the loop in understanding what features we don't have or what we can make better or what's not clear to trying to really understand that through our customer successes and our operations is to make the backend work simpler for them to process more. So we don't have to throw people at problems, which a lot of companies do, and we could streamline it and make it automated and simple. So keep the team super lean, but do five, 10 times the work that we're currently doing and that's our goal.

But then really taking that information from our team and learning from our team as much as we can and bringing and trying to manage the process with the user experience in design. And in the second half of the day, it's like every other CEO's job, managing issues, problem solving, talking to potential partners, thinking outside the box and trying to come up with long term solutions, fundraising, etc.. So it's busy, and it feels it's even gotten busier since we've been home because it feels like there is no break, really. So it's constant and it might not be healthy, but it's what needs to happen during this kind of changing time. I think for right now, especially for our business, we've been growing tremendously fast, you know, going from 350,000 a month in March to two million, approximately two million last month and the month before, 1.4 million, which is the first time we ever broke a million the previous month before that was 992,000. So really scaling up, really growing and having the exact same team that's doing it. So a lot of challenges come up with a lot of problems. And that's what we're excited about. We love when challenges happen because it means we're on the right path and now we're doing something is difficult and it means that we're doing something that it was difficult for other people. They're not doing it. We should be the ones doing it and really trying to streamline our entire experience.


Chris Byers: I think you're right that there's so much I think everybody is experiencing right now the odd feeling of like I'm at home, I'm out doing things less, but somehow I feel like I'm working more or I'm busier than ever. And so I do think those things like you suggested or are doing yourself, getting out and and running or walking or whatever for an hour like those are those are really good practices to help keep our minds kind of focused and keep us from being one hundred percent work all the time, because that can definitely be taxing. You know, we talk about creating a digitally agile workforce and you obviously use technology all day, every day to accomplish what you're doing. Tell us about that technology. What are you doing to kind of stay competitive, stay ahead of the competition?


Jeremy Parker: Yes. So everything on our site is pretty much fully custom. So we're constantly not really looking at our competitors. Honestly, I didn't look at any of our competitors until year two because I didn't want to be led in a certain way that maybe they were doing something. And I would probably have to believe that they're doing it because it's the right way to do it. So we took a really kind of a simple approach, like don't even look at our competitors for the first version of the platform. Let's just talk to our customers and design a platform that we would think makes the most sense really from the ground up. So that's what we did. And I think it's allowed us to think of the whole industry a little bit different than everyone else is thinking of it. So that's been really great.

But then you kind of start layering different features and different functionality. So we've added Intercom, which has been probably our best tool that we use to engage with our customers. All of our customers are inbound and a lot of our customers check out without speaking to anybody, which is awesome. And a lot of our customers need to ask questions, which is totally great. It's like, is this product going to come out in time? Is it going to look perfect? You know, they want to feel confident before they check out with a large order, especially if they're buying it on behalf of their company. A lot's on the line. So having Intercom has been an incredibly vital tool for us to really engage with our customers in real time, answer their questions and get them to feel confident with ordering.

Obviously all the backend features, backend platforms like HubSpot and Marketo really trying to automate the marketing because our team is very limited. How do you engage with your best customers? How do you convert them and give them a great experience, so trying to just use as many tools, that doesn't make sense for us to build and all the things that are proprietary to us that is unique to us, that we want to own everything. So really trying to focus and build that right platform from day one and constantly listen to our customers as much as possible and constantly keep building and building, building so we chip away at it all like a blocking and tackling set. You get to a point where things are going to be really challenging and then when it's really challenging, you make it better and then there could be other challenges. So it's never going to be an end. And as long as you keep trying to innovate and push forward and do things that other people are not doing or do things that really makes sense for your customers, it's never going to get easy. But that's what I love about it. That's why we're in this business, to challenge ourselves and to grow and to build something better than what's out there.


Chris Byers: I think you've got some advice in there that sounds really interesting. And it sounds like there's times where it's valuable to go explore, like what's someone else in the world doing and maybe you want to repeat that. So what's everybody else doing for marketing automation? Let me go get some HubSpot. But then there's times where it sounds like you're saying it's actually smarter to not observe what else is going on in the world, but maybe simply sit and experience your problem, try to understand your problem and solve it in the way that you think is right. Can you describe that a little bit more?


Jeremy Parker: That's 100 percent right. In the very beginning of the business, I was doing a little bit of research before I really stopped myself. And you start to look at what else is out there. And at some point I was designing like a rabbit hole. I was designing the wrong experience and I knew it was the wrong experience. I was basing it on other customers and trying to make their experience better. And I kept finding myself like, why do I even have to do that? Like, shouldn't you be thinking about the big picture of if I was a customer and I landed on a promotional product site, what would I want the experience to be? And I didn't really know the answer to that. So I figured let me just speak to as many customers as possible and don't have this preconceived idea of what the right idea is. I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, you always either think you need to have the right idea from day one, which is not true, or that you have to feel that ego that it has to be my idea, which is not true.

I think as an entrepreneur and starting a business, you have to be totally OK with other people's opinion. You might not like the opinions. You might not have to agree with opinions, but you should be super open to it and you can't be fearful of starting something even if you had no idea. And I always say to friends of mine who are nervous, I don't have the right idea or is it going to work or not. If you really, truly believe that you're going to ultimately get the right idea, then just go out there, because it's never going to be what you expected from day one. You know, in a lot of times, fear kills more dreams than failure ever could. A lot of people are just scared of doing something, scared of putting themselves out there, scared of internally their mind, the people thinking of them as a failure. But if you can remove that fear, anything is possible. You're unlimited, it's like a superpower. Like if you're OK failing and you're learning and, you know, ultimately you're going to fail a thousand times, but you believe in yourself and you believe that you make it better and eventually you will succeed. It's a superpower. You're unstoppable. So I like to think I try to get into that mentality always and totally be OK with it. And even a lot of employees who are this is the first time they've ever joined a startup. And it was hard to break them out of their their notion of, oh, something's going wrong, things are really bad. It's OK if things go wrong, as long as you solve it. No one expects you to be one hundred percent perfect from day one. We're a startup, we're growing, we're learning. But as long as we constantly do our best effort, chip away at the problems, keep building as more problems arise, figure out a solution and fix it. You know, we're five years old. We're still having tons of issues, but we have a lot less issues now than we did a year ago. And we have different issues now. And then five months from now, we'll have a lot less issues than we had now and there'll be other issues. So it's just constantly being OK with that failure, in that case being, you know, it's all for a greater purpose.


Chris Byers: You know, I think that's wonderful advice. It was actually Joel Sapolsky who really opened my eyes. I was six months into the job and I took it over from our founder and a good friend of mine. But I was trying to run the business for a long time thinking like, oh, what would he do? Because it's been successful so far because he's been here. And Joel talked about this idea where he had the exact same experience with stock exchange. And at some point he was like, oh, this has to be my vision. And what that means is if it's my vision that I may fall flat on my face tomorrow, but that's the only way I can know how to actually go forward, because I know I am motivated. I know why I want to solve the problem. And I can't tell you how many times I've had to come back to this idea that I can't worry about what other people's expectations are or what I think the next smarter CEO might do in this case. I've got to say, I'm going to own this problem. And if I fail tomorrow, well, at least I know why I failed and why I chose to to make the decisions. I love that thinking.


Jeremy Parker: You have to think that way. And it's really I think for me, it's I'm lucky. I feel very lucky. I got to a place where I'm totally OK with failure. And I think once you get to that mentality, then I'm OK with failure ultimately, but I'm OK failing on a daily basis because. I feel like when you're failing more, the more you fail, the further you're getting to ultimately get to the right place and with the right solution is so it's totally ok. It's just a part of the process. And as long as you know it's part of the process, then nothing could derail you.


Chris Byers: I think that's so applicable not just to leaders or the senior leader of an organization, but to leaders all across the organization. The moment you are willing to say, I'm going to do something and take enough risk and I'm OK failing, that's the moment you're really going to move forward. If you're always just trying to think, what are the rules, what are the best way to do this that I think somebody else wants me to do, it's always going to hold you back. So I think it's wonderful advice. As we kind of begin to wrap up the conversation, we've talked about this idea that really can be overwhelming in some ways. And I'm curious, where do you think people should start when they think about starting a business or how do they get just going and take those first steps?


Jeremy Parker: Find an industry that you're passionate about. You don't have to have the right solution, but find something that you're passionate about. Because what's going to happen is if you ever get hit in the face and at startups, you are going to get smacked in the face thousands of times on a daily basis. A lot of people I've seen start businesses. And then the first issue, they pack it up and they're over it. For a business to succeed, it's going to take many, many years. Whatever you're doing, you're going to be in it for many, many years until you get to that successful outcome that you'll ultimately want. Or it could be forever. Could be your whole life depends on really what you want to do with it. So I think really find the industry that you're super passionate about and then just be OK with not knowing what the right answer is. You know, be OK with learning, be open minded, start to talk to all customers. Your idea from day one might completely change on the second week or the third week, and it might pivot in the third year like things are constantly going to be evolving and changing and just be open minded to maybe not knowing what the right answer is. But as long as you feel like you're on the path or you're eager to find the right answer, you're going to find it. You're going to figure it out. You know, it's never over until it's over. It's unlimited what you could possibly do. So I would just say, put yourself out there. Don't be scared of failure. Try to learn as much as possible and constantly move and pivot as much as you can until you get to a place where it's right.


Chris Byers: Well, I've got a handful of kind of rapid fire questions to kind of end up on. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity in your business processes?


Jeremy Parker: Simplicity. I always think, I don't know if it's simplicity, but I always think of consistency. I think a lot of people in this world are not necessarily consistent. As long as you're consistent and you're working really hard and you're working towards a problem and trying to figure out a solution every single day. And you might have great days and you might have really bad days. But as long as you're consistent more days than you're not consistent, you'll ultimately get to the place where you want to be. So trying to simplify it, trying to be really focused on what the main goal is, you know, not get distracted by too many things, really try to say what's the ultimate goal? What's my North Star, as they say, and really trying to be laser focused on that and consistently laser focus on it until you get it to be really right.


Chris Byers: And tell us, what's your go to productivity tip is.


Jeremy Parker: For me, it's honestly running. I run in the morning, I have to clear my head. It allows me to be way more productive throughout the day. I think if I just started the day and went into the office, my head will be all over the place. So I think having a clear mind going into it, really think from like the bird's eye view every single day and kind of resetting yourself and try to understand what the main objectives are. And what I do is once I get into the office before I even open on my computer, before I talk to anybody, I write down all the ideas I've been thinking about on that run to make sure I don't forget it and try to organize my day in some ways, like what's the big picture ideas and what's kind of more of the granular things. And I think just having a to do list, having a clear head and a to do list, you could constantly feel like you're checking things off the box and you start getting those early wins. It could be something very simple as just like you have a call with the tech team, you do every day. But being able to check it off the list makes you feel like you're accomplishing something and you're getting to your next phase. So building on wins, I think is very important.


Chris Byers: All right. And how will you be reimagining your work moving forward?


Jeremy Parker: We have a really good game plan for the next six months. Now, obviously, the world could change dramatically again. So we will have to always keep our finger on the pulse. But for us, it's really trying to focus on the distribution. We've really streamlined the entire experience of buying swag. Now it's about making the entire experience of distributing swag automated and simple and streamlined. And that means once we have this swag distribution platform really to where it needs to be and now we're about eighty five percent of where the ultimate vision of it is, then how do you automate the distribution? So, you know, integrating into HubSpot in Marketo and Salesforce or Justworks or HR solutions and allowing people to kind of set it and forget it. Like a person's birthday, be able to automatically send them swag, a person's five year anniversary, send them swag. Somebody hasn't responded to your email, press a button in Salesforce and sends them swag to kind of close the deal. Somebody fills out a form or attends one of your events through Marketo or HubSpot, it automatically triggers a notification to send them something. Try to figure out a process for people to buy swag up front once, say, in the programs, decide how they want and who should be getting stuff based on triggers and then just kind of let the magic happen and allow it to be super automated. So that's ultimately where our goal is and we're hoping to get to that place by middle of next year.


Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up this episode featuring Jeremy Parker, there's a handful of things that I just heard that I thought were really powerful. One is it's really important for you to find a problem that you care about. If you can find that problem, get focused on it, be consistent, spend time with it, you're going to get somewhere and you're going to solve some cool problems in the world. Have a willingness to fail and willingness to kind of learn from that and move on and keep moving toward success, but have those daily failures so you can get to the long term success. Find ways to clear your mind, whether it's running or something else that helps you get away from the day to day so your thoughts can actually get organized and get kind of cleaned up and you can get focused on what's really important.

Thank you for joining us for this episode and season, we'll be back next year with new guests, new topics, and even more ways to reimagine work. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to get new episodes when they drop, or head to formstack.com/podcasts to catch up on any episodes you missed.

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. And in this episode, we are talking with Jeremy Parker. He is the CEO and co-founder of Swag.com. It's an e-commerce platform for purchasing promotional materials.

Jeremy is passionate about creating a conscientious business, serving the best interest of his employees and customers. And in our conversation, we're going to dig into how he's built a responsible business model while experiencing exponential growth, particularly during a time where others in his industry are declining. How has he reimagined his work and Swag.com's ability to grow. Let's find out.

Jeremy, welcome to Ripple Effect.


Jeremy Parker: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.


Chris Byers: As we get started, I'd love to hear and love for you to share with our listeners your background. How did you get to Swag.com, what's some history there that got you to today?

Jeremy Parker: Yes, I started as a filmmaker. I went to Boston University. I was a documentary filmmaker. I really went to college specifically for marketing or so I thought. And when I went to BU and I was looking at the course curriculum, I looked at the film program and the marketing program, I realized that they were pretty much exactly the same thing except for film. I will learn how to make videos and tell stories through videos. And this is at the onset when YouTube is starting. And I figured that's the really the way to go. And during my time there, I created a feature length documentary called One Percent that ultimately ended up winning the audience award at the Vail Film Festival, a really big film festival. And I remember I was in Vail and after the awards ceremony and I go down to the celebrity or quote unquote celebrity brunch and half the room was celebrities and half the room were these these artists, struggling artists. And I realized I had to kind of do an internal gut check, do I want this to be my life? It was a very weird flight home, you know, going back to Boston, going back to to college where I was, had pretty much the highs of the high you could get to in this independent film world. But I really realized that this was not the path for me or wasn't what I truly loved and what I wanted to do.

So after college, I started my first company and I had no business experience whatsoever. So I thought, what business can I start that I could learn all the different aspects of business? So I thought starting a t-shirt company, I could learn how to build an e-commerce site and how to do the marketing and how to do production, manufacturing and all the different aspects of business. I did this for about two years; I launched it in 2007. So if you could remember 2007, this is when all the banks were going under. It was a really bad time, especially for really high end t-shirts. And we were selling two hundred t-shirts to different boutiques all around the world. And these boutiques just ended up closing a lot of them. And what we did was we started a marketing, kind of gimmicky now that I think about it, but at the time I tied the prices of our shirts to the price of the Dow Jones. So for every hundred points the Dow dropped, the customers would get a discount on the t-shirt price. And it's a little gimmicky, but it ended up getting picked up by Mark Cuban's blog, Blog Maverick, which got a lot of eyeballs and then ultimately got picked up by Ad Age, which ran the whole feature on the story and how we're able to pivot during this really difficult period of time. And it got on the radar of this guy, Eliot Peyser.

Eliot Peyser is the CEO of Weatherproof Garment Company. And I ended up meeting with Eliot and we became friends.  I would show up as office, you know, once a week for a period of time and just kind of spit ball ideas. He was a very creative guy and we were just throwing ideas against the wall. And they also owned another business called MV Sport. Now MV Sport is one of the largest players in the promotional product space. Now, I had no knowledge of this promotional product space. I had no clue what it was. I didn't know anything about it. This was around 2009 at the time. But being around Eliot and going to different events and trade shows with Eliot, I realized that it was kind of a missing piece in this industry. So I started a creative division under MV Sport really about twelve years ago, thirteen years ago at this point. And I learned a lot about the industry as a whole, who the buyer was, what the problems of the industry were. And then you fast forward 10 years. I've done a lot of different things from starting a company with my brother and Jesse Esler that ultimately ended up selling to a publicly traded company that was around social media influencers.

I found myself ultimately always constantly thinking about the swag space and how there hasn't really been a player that's reimagined it or innovated it at all. And the aha moment of starting Swag was the industries remain old, fragmented, and broken. But the buyer changed. And once I realized that the buyer is no longer this forty, fifty year old office manager and it's a millennial buyer. Well how do you build a platform really focus on today's buyer. So 2016, started Swag.com. We've grown five years in a row. We were just named the 218th fastest growing company on the Inc 500 in 2020. We have over five thousand customers from Facebook and Google and Amazon and Netflix and Spotify and TikTok to much smaller companies. And we're really trying to streamline the entire experience, making it really easy for customers to not only find what they're looking for, design it, and buy it in a matter of seconds, but also send it out and distribute it to all of their remote employees, all of their best customers, all of their leads. So a really robust swag management and distribution platform, all in one.


Chris Byers: Well, that is an amazing story and I love the gist. Well, the story of how you used the Dow Jones kind of going up and down to change pricing, like just love the unique kind of thinking there. And it's funny you made the point you didn't know how to start a business or you didn't know what starting a business was like. And yet I actually think that's probably what's giving you the freedom to build a great business is not having a bunch of rules that you were trying to follow, but rather, how do I just see a problem and go try to work against it and make make some impact? What do you think keeps you motivated to kind of continue to build businesses?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, I always think about this. A lot of people ask me that question. I'm constantly thinking about it. It's not to make money. I'm not really that kind of person who's like, I need to make more money, make it bigger and bigger. It's kind of an internal thing. You know, I see a problem and I want to fix it. I'm like, I'm a tinkerer, I'm more of a creative in that way of trying to see the big problem, how people are doing it and trying to do it in a different way. That, I think is the right way of making people's lives a lot easier. You know, swag, it seems like such a a non-sexy industry. No one really thinks to get into the promotional product space. Many people actually think of it as throwaway items. And I want to combat that because swag is such a powerful marketing tool if it's done right. And that's a big caveat. If it's done right, it needs to be high quality. People need to get it and actually want to keep it and they want to use it. And then it's really valuable. You know, you think of in general a lot of marketing initiatives. And you watch TV and you fast forward through commercials. Right. People are trained to avoid ads at all costs. You're browsing the internet and you put the ad blocker and and it blocks those ads, or you're looking through a magazine and you flip through the ads, you want to get to the content. People are programmatically set at this point to avoid ads at all costs. And with swag, what do you say when somebody gives you a really high quality piece of products or something you say thank you. It really does make an impact when you give them something that they're actually going to value.

So my entire business, it was from the very beginning, was really focused on, well, let's curate the best of what's out there. You know, I don't need to offer a thousand pens, a thousand notebooks. Let's curate. Let's make it really easy for customers to find what they're looking for and make sure that every single thing on our site is quality. But then who has time to look through these big catalogs and wasting paper and all these things that just doesn't make any sense. Let them streamline it. Let them find it. Upload their logo. Our system detects how many colors are in the logo. Click a button, checkout, click a button and send it to a thousand different addresses. I want it in the marketing closet or sales closet. A London office. New York office. You could break it down by department location, permission settings, approval flows, automate the entire experience and just free up your time. You shouldn't be wasting your time on swag. So we want to really streamline the entire experience for everybody we know.


Chris Byers: You're beginning to talk about something that I think is is really important. And it's really how does the user experience impact not only your ability as a business owner, founder, CEO, grow the business, but as a way to kind of give people an easy way to get the job done? I can't tell you how much I see where user experience just completely blocks kind of a company's ability to grow and kind of serve their customers because... It doesn't even have to be hard stuff. It can be things that are just like tedious and that extra few seconds. But every day, like, it'll tax you over time and eventually causes you to to not want to buy or not want to use the product. And there's almost probably a granular in the weeds thing that you're talking about that not everybody always realizes they need to do. Sometimes as a CEO, you kind of think, oh, I cast vision and all that, but at times you do need to kind of get into the weeds. How do you think about that?


Jeremy Parker: One hundred percent. I mean, when we started this business, I was not only CEO, I was head of product, I was head intern, I was head deliveryman. You have to do everything, especially at the very beginning. You have very limited resources. I'll tell you the story of when we started. So our first customer ever was Facebook, which sounds crazy to think that your first customer is such a big company, but that was by design. When we started the business, we realized we had this amazing Swag.com brand name, which took us about nine months to get. And we had no website and we frankly didn't know exactly the right experience to build. My experience in promotional products, fourteen years ago, things were very fragmented, stale, and broken, but it changed a little bit. And I wanted to do the first year just kind of a deep dive on who the customer really is and understand what product we should actually be building. So we were traveling salesman and I would knock on doors and would go to big offices and I would look at, reach out to all my LinkedIn friends and see where they worked and even if they didn't buy swag, but just try to get into the office. This is really what we did for Facebook. We got into the office through a friend and we walked up and down the hallways just meeting people and speaking to people until somebody want to buy something from us, and it didn't matter about how much money we were going to make, it was just trying to learn from the customer and get those row of logos, that social proof.

The second day I went to work and when they asked us who else we work with, I said Facebook. And they probably assume we work with thousands of other customers. But really, it was their second day of sales. And we work just with Facebook and we repeat that cycle to get that row of logos of blue chip companies. Really do the unscalable things. In the beginning, you have to do everything. It's unscalable. We had no platform, but then we learned as much as we could that first year, built this automated ecommerce experience and really grew it, you know, going from 350,000 the first year to 1.1 million through the ecommerce site, the second year to 3.1 million to 6.9 million, consistently growing. And what's interesting is this year is the first year we're going to break 10 million in sales in the pandemic, but the first year we ever hired a salesperson, all of our sales came completely inbound, no outbound whatsoever. And we had two customer service reps handling all those orders. So our entire vision from the very beginning was there's so much friction, there's so many roadblocks, so many hurdles that people have to do. Traditionally with selling of these promotional products, how can we streamline everything, whether it's our end of how to process orders to make our jobs a lot easier so we could scale infinitely amount like we could go from 500,000 dollars a month to three million dollars another month and have the same exact team. How many sales can we actually convert with like a two person team? And that's what we've been trying to do, keep it as super lean as possible, but really allow ourselves to grow. And what's exciting is, you know, in March when the pandemic hit, we were doing about 350,000 in sales. And now last month we did about 2 million in sales and we have pretty much the same exact team. So it just shows that we're able to grow now and scale and automate the experience of not only customers, but for our team to process more orders. But you have to start from from ground one. You're not going to have that process from the day one. So you have to learn as much as possible and you have to be OK doing those hard chores or the things that maybe doesn't sound fun or sexy or exciting. You have to, you know, roll up your sleeves.


Chris Byers: That is truly great to hear how you've thought about that. I'm curious, you've obviously at this point experienced in business a couple of major either recessions or like that, even whether it's a blip or something, recession or whatever, this year. How have you been able to kind of navigate through that? And how have you approached when you've seen those moments coming?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, it's hard. It's not I'm not going to say it was easy or I had the answer. You know, when the pandemic hit, it really hurt our business. It hurt our whole industry. The whole promotional product industry is down upwards of 44% this year versus last year. And it makes sense on the surface.

You know, we had the HR manager for a company buying swag for internal use to give to onboarding of new hires. And no one's hiring right now or you have the marketing team buying for trade shows. There are no trade shows going on. Or you're the office manager buying for the swag office or company culture in the office and no one's in the office. So on the surface, when you're faced with that and you go from 200,000 dollars the first week of March and sales of 19,000 the second week, you really have to do an internal gut check and say, what do we have that could win in this space? Like how how can we adapt? And we've done a lot of things and we threw a lot of things at the wall and some things worked and some things really didn't work.

You know, we were the first ones that I know of to start really selling masks. And right when it came out selling blank masks, it was actually the only product we ever sold on our site that you didn't have to upload your logo on. Our site is all about customization, and we started offering just masks. A lot of our suppliers, you know, repurpose their facilities to make masks. And we felt like we have this huge database and infrastructure of suppliers that we could really be of help. So we launched this mask program for every 100 masks that are bought, We donate 10 to people in need, you know, front line workers, homeless shelters, different people who we can help because we knew a lot of people were very nervous and didn't have, you know, the supply chain that we had. And we donated over 4,000 masks during that period of time. And that honestly was great because we felt like we're giving back and we're helping humanity and just people as a whole. But also it actually kept the business afloat. Now, we were growing then, but it allowed us to not have to lay off a lot of our team members, you know, to keep the team as intact, which is very important for us as our team is our family. So it's really important that we did everything we possibly could to make it through it. And then ultimately we ended up allowing this to really grow in the last five months have been the best five months we've ever done as the swag distribution platform.

We really got a feeling as we were building this platform about two years ago where we saw the transition to work from home. Now, we never thought a pandemic with it. We never thought it would take off like this. And hopefully the world gets back on track sometime soon. But we were building a platform for this work from home where people may not, we felt like they may not have to go to a trade show or they didn't want to go to the office every day. How can we build a simple process for people to be able to distribute swag, send it to remote addresses? Whether they want to send it to one address at a time or thousands at a time, we should build the platform to allow them to do that. So we've been building this process for two years and when this pandemic hit, we really had to reposition it because it was structured and formatted for a marketing team and sales teams, and we really had to kind of redevelop how we sell the platform to engage with the office manager and how they engage the remote employees to keep the company culture thriving even when no one's in the office. So there's a lot of transition and a lot of moving parts, but ultimately it ends up working for us and it's a constant grind. You know, hopefully we'll be able to keep this momentum up and keep helping our customers and allowing them to do business in such a strange time for everyone.


Chris Byers: So one of the things you touched on a couple of times there was this idea of impact, whether that's impact of making sure our organization still has the cash to pay for people's salaries and keep them going, but also opportunities to kind of give back. How do you think about what impact needs to look like from a business and how you go about it?


Jeremy Parker: It's interesting. I mean, I think we just want to sleep well at night. You want to have a feeling when you're in the office that's not just business. You know, obviously the business has to succeed and we want it to succeed for everyone within the company because that will allow people to have a great job and have longevity in their career. But it also needs to feel right. So whenever we're approaching anything, we always think, is this the right thing to do or can we help in any way?

From the very beginning of our business, we launched a program called Swag Swap. It was literally at the top even before we had a website built, we had a landing page and we had this this little link in the bottom that said Swag Swap. So our program, basically the whole idea is you buy swag from other companies or you have old swag in your closet. If you donate that swag to people in need, we'll give you a discount on new swag through us. And we baked it into the core principles of our business of how to give back even the entire process of being super curated and only offering the best and highest quality products is because, frankly, it's upsetting to see tons of things being wasted from companies and then thrown in the trash. It doesn't do the company any good. It costs the company money. It tarnishes the brand. It's not great for the environment.

So we felt like we need to change how people think of swag. It needs to be all about high quality. It's the only way this is going to work. It's they only way it's sustainable. So we're really trying to focus on quality products from the get go. It's in our DNA. And then whenever something arises where there's a challenge, we're constantly thinking, well, can we add and try to help the world in any way, in a small way? No, we're not moving the needle in such a massive way. We're still a small startup. But anything you could possibly do that I think benefits you, whether it's your team members or your customers or your community as a whole, you should strive for.


Chris Byers: So some people who are listening are probably earlier on in their career or they're running their first business. How has that changed over time and running more than one business? How is your kind of philosophy, let's say, on having an impact and being conscientious about the world changed?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know if it has changed. I think the bigger our business gets, the bigger impact theoretically you could have. But how I grew up, I was always around charity. So following my parents and being brought to different places to see the meaning, like what's important in this world is to give back, that's a big portion. Obviously, we're not a charity, we're a business, we're a startup, so our intention is to make money. But I think you can give back, you can do good things even when you do have a business and even, you know, it's not like one or the other or corporations are bad or this, like you can have a successful business. And as a business person, it's important that we make money as the first thing that we focus on. But as you get bigger, you always have a way to make a bigger impact. And I think now as we're scaling, we're hopefully going to be able to continue that, hopefully be able to hire more people, hopefully make that experience really great for our team members and really take care of them and their families and really just have them in mind. I think just constantly having your team in mind, constantly having your customers in mind and your community in mind, I think makes a better business as well.


Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit more about those experiences, that kind of maybe as you were growing up, that have informed the way you do think about having an impact.


Jeremy Parker: When I was much younger, like 11 years old, I went with my family to Israel and we went to this orphanage in Netanya in Israel. And I saw all these kids. There's hundreds of kids who didn't have a great family life who are living in this orphanage. And I went to all the different rooms. I remember I was around their age at the time. Some were a little older, some a little younger. And we became friends. I was running around with them and playing soccer with them all day. And I went to the room just to see where they were sleeping and where they're living. And I noticed that they didn't have any toys. And for me, it's such a small thing. Right. You're a kid, and I realize none of these kids had toys in the room. So I brought up to my parents and I said, you know what would be really great? My bar mitzvah, you get a bar mitzvah when you're thirteen, I said, it would be really great if I can raise money for these children and just donate. I didn't know it would turn into, just maybe raise a little bit of money and donate and buy some toys for these kids and give it to the orphanage and they could give it to the kids on their birthday or for holidays, etc.. So I launched with a friend of mine, my backyard. Remember this very vividly. We launched a carnival and it was like a small carnival with the water balloon fights and stuff like that. And we raised about a thousand dollars from the community and we ended up buying toys and we sent it to Israel. And what they did was, which is amazing, they set up a room, a small closet, like a really small closet that was called the Jeremy Parker Toy Room, right, and they put the toys in there, and then when other donors and other people came to visit this facility, this orphanage, they saw that Jeremy Parker toy room and they wanted to donate. And now it's been, I'm 35 now, so what, 22 years since then. And I visited them several times. They have this toy room. It's always been stocked and you realize just a small idea and the impact it could have on people's lives. So from very early on I realized that and kind of taking it to business. Now, obviously, I'm not running a charity, but you do constantly, always think of you know, how can you help people? I think it's just the basic instinct of how to help people. And I think if you think that way, you're going to be the best CEO you possibly could be because you're going to put yourself in situations of the people you need who are doing this with you, your team members, thinking about what they're going through, this pandemic. They're all working remotely. They're all scared. You know, everyone is nervous and trying to do whatever you can to make people as a whole, whoever you work with, have the best possible experience.


Chris Byers: Yeah, I think often in leadership, even as leaders, we often look to other people for the answer or look to other people for like what's the government going to do? What's somebody else going to do? And I love this idea that you're talking about, which is really we're the ones who can make a difference. And we can and we can make decisions. We can spend time with people to really encourage them and help them work through all the challenges that are going on right now. And I think we sometimes as leaders also think that it's business first and such. And we're not out to your point, doing charity work, but having an impact on people's lives is vital and important. Well, when we kind of take a step back and think about this year, just think about crafting a great business. We've been talking about this idea of reimagining your world of work. So what does it mean to you when I say that? What does it mean to reimagine work?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know. I say I'm constantly thinking about that and how the world will change and how it has changed already and how I don't know if it will ever go back to what it was. We have our office in New York City. We haven't got rid of it. We just actually got it. Three months before the pandemic on a three year lease, we have one or two people go into the office every day. We have a team of 26 in New York and people are scared. So I don't know. I'm not going to ever force them to go back in the office until there's a vaccine, until people feel safe. So we have been able to work remotely and it's been actually we've been able to to manage it.

I love working in the office. I love the creativity of the office. You're by the watercooler, you go to the kitchen and you just bump into somebody you might not ever really talk to, you know I'm the CEO so I'm dealing a lot with the executives. And you might not talk to every single person in the company at all times, but just being able to see people's face, have a conversation, you know, something sparks an idea and then it leads down the rabbit hole. Then you book a conference room and now you're speaking about something your never thought about speaking about for three hours. And that happens. And that stuff is really exciting. I love that. I love that creativity in that environment. And we're missing that. I've been trying to keep it as much as possible. It's not easy. And what I've been doing personally is I message different team members, unannounced, unscheduled, and just start talking to them. And the conversation could be a minute. It could be five minutes, could be half an hour. But try to get people to feel more connected, try to replicate that office environment and the office feel.

And I think a lot of people are going through this where they're not sure what's going to happen in the future. They may do partially back in the office, you know, maybe all remote. And I think we just have to be constantly adapting and looking at how the market reacts. That's really it. Just looking how our customers and our customers are office managers, HR managers, how are they doing business. And we have to make our service useful for them. Our whole business is trying to make their lives a lot easier. So right now it's a wide distribution platform. This is saving people a ton of time instead of having to ship products to their office or now to their home, packaged things up themselves and they go to the UPS store and ship it all over the place. We handle everything for them. Instead of having an office manager or somebody is launching a virtual event, have to gather everyone's address. Who's attending that event? We've built solutions that allow people to capture that information with t-shirt size the recipient is and try to humanize virtual events through a platform. But as the world changes and continues to shift, we'll constantly have to have our finger on the pulse and constantly keep developing and making the experience better for all of our customers.


Chris Byers: As you think about working at home more often, one of the things that means is that less and less people get to see what you're doing everyday. How does your personal life even play out at work? Tell us about a day in your life? What does that look like?


Jeremy Parker: So now I just actually had a baby, my first child in July, so it's a lot of stuff going on during this pandemic. I ended up ultimately moving with my wife and my child into my parents house, because New York City at the onset of the pandemic was very scary, it wasn't a place that we wanted to be. So we left for a couple of months, ultimately moved back to the city, had the baby. Now we're living back in Jersey in our own place, we're getting used to this new, this new normal. I'm waking up a lot earlier. I have the baby still in my room. I take about an hour to an hour and a half walk or run every single morning trying to clear my head, get into the office eight thirty nine o'clock and do all my calls, have my lead designers based in London. So I do an hour design call with them every morning. Our tech team is based in Ukraine. They're seven hours ahead. So I do an hour tech call with our CTO who's based in Ukraine. I do those two calls because for me that's my passion, it's what I'm most interested in is the product, the user experience, what features we need to build, how to solve problems, constantly talking to our customer success team and our team and trying to understand because they really have the best finger on the pulse at this point.

You know, four years ago, five years ago, when we started the business, I knew exactly what our customers wanted because I was the one talking to our customers on a daily basis. Now it's we have a team doing that. And it's very important that I'm always in the loop in understanding what features we don't have or what we can make better or what's not clear to trying to really understand that through our customer successes and our operations is to make the backend work simpler for them to process more. So we don't have to throw people at problems, which a lot of companies do, and we could streamline it and make it automated and simple. So keep the team super lean, but do five, 10 times the work that we're currently doing and that's our goal.

But then really taking that information from our team and learning from our team as much as we can and bringing and trying to manage the process with the user experience in design. And in the second half of the day, it's like every other CEO's job, managing issues, problem solving, talking to potential partners, thinking outside the box and trying to come up with long term solutions, fundraising, etc.. So it's busy, and it feels it's even gotten busier since we've been home because it feels like there is no break, really. So it's constant and it might not be healthy, but it's what needs to happen during this kind of changing time. I think for right now, especially for our business, we've been growing tremendously fast, you know, going from 350,000 a month in March to two million, approximately two million last month and the month before, 1.4 million, which is the first time we ever broke a million the previous month before that was 992,000. So really scaling up, really growing and having the exact same team that's doing it. So a lot of challenges come up with a lot of problems. And that's what we're excited about. We love when challenges happen because it means we're on the right path and now we're doing something is difficult and it means that we're doing something that it was difficult for other people. They're not doing it. We should be the ones doing it and really trying to streamline our entire experience.


Chris Byers: I think you're right that there's so much I think everybody is experiencing right now the odd feeling of like I'm at home, I'm out doing things less, but somehow I feel like I'm working more or I'm busier than ever. And so I do think those things like you suggested or are doing yourself, getting out and and running or walking or whatever for an hour like those are those are really good practices to help keep our minds kind of focused and keep us from being one hundred percent work all the time, because that can definitely be taxing. You know, we talk about creating a digitally agile workforce and you obviously use technology all day, every day to accomplish what you're doing. Tell us about that technology. What are you doing to kind of stay competitive, stay ahead of the competition?


Jeremy Parker: Yes. So everything on our site is pretty much fully custom. So we're constantly not really looking at our competitors. Honestly, I didn't look at any of our competitors until year two because I didn't want to be led in a certain way that maybe they were doing something. And I would probably have to believe that they're doing it because it's the right way to do it. So we took a really kind of a simple approach, like don't even look at our competitors for the first version of the platform. Let's just talk to our customers and design a platform that we would think makes the most sense really from the ground up. So that's what we did. And I think it's allowed us to think of the whole industry a little bit different than everyone else is thinking of it. So that's been really great.

But then you kind of start layering different features and different functionality. So we've added Intercom, which has been probably our best tool that we use to engage with our customers. All of our customers are inbound and a lot of our customers check out without speaking to anybody, which is awesome. And a lot of our customers need to ask questions, which is totally great. It's like, is this product going to come out in time? Is it going to look perfect? You know, they want to feel confident before they check out with a large order, especially if they're buying it on behalf of their company. A lot's on the line. So having Intercom has been an incredibly vital tool for us to really engage with our customers in real time, answer their questions and get them to feel confident with ordering.

Obviously all the backend features, backend platforms like HubSpot and Marketo really trying to automate the marketing because our team is very limited. How do you engage with your best customers? How do you convert them and give them a great experience, so trying to just use as many tools, that doesn't make sense for us to build and all the things that are proprietary to us that is unique to us, that we want to own everything. So really trying to focus and build that right platform from day one and constantly listen to our customers as much as possible and constantly keep building and building, building so we chip away at it all like a blocking and tackling set. You get to a point where things are going to be really challenging and then when it's really challenging, you make it better and then there could be other challenges. So it's never going to be an end. And as long as you keep trying to innovate and push forward and do things that other people are not doing or do things that really makes sense for your customers, it's never going to get easy. But that's what I love about it. That's why we're in this business, to challenge ourselves and to grow and to build something better than what's out there.


Chris Byers: I think you've got some advice in there that sounds really interesting. And it sounds like there's times where it's valuable to go explore, like what's someone else in the world doing and maybe you want to repeat that. So what's everybody else doing for marketing automation? Let me go get some HubSpot. But then there's times where it sounds like you're saying it's actually smarter to not observe what else is going on in the world, but maybe simply sit and experience your problem, try to understand your problem and solve it in the way that you think is right. Can you describe that a little bit more?


Jeremy Parker: That's 100 percent right. In the very beginning of the business, I was doing a little bit of research before I really stopped myself. And you start to look at what else is out there. And at some point I was designing like a rabbit hole. I was designing the wrong experience and I knew it was the wrong experience. I was basing it on other customers and trying to make their experience better. And I kept finding myself like, why do I even have to do that? Like, shouldn't you be thinking about the big picture of if I was a customer and I landed on a promotional product site, what would I want the experience to be? And I didn't really know the answer to that. So I figured let me just speak to as many customers as possible and don't have this preconceived idea of what the right idea is. I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, you always either think you need to have the right idea from day one, which is not true, or that you have to feel that ego that it has to be my idea, which is not true.

I think as an entrepreneur and starting a business, you have to be totally OK with other people's opinion. You might not like the opinions. You might not have to agree with opinions, but you should be super open to it and you can't be fearful of starting something even if you had no idea. And I always say to friends of mine who are nervous, I don't have the right idea or is it going to work or not. If you really, truly believe that you're going to ultimately get the right idea, then just go out there, because it's never going to be what you expected from day one. You know, in a lot of times, fear kills more dreams than failure ever could. A lot of people are just scared of doing something, scared of putting themselves out there, scared of internally their mind, the people thinking of them as a failure. But if you can remove that fear, anything is possible. You're unlimited, it's like a superpower. Like if you're OK failing and you're learning and, you know, ultimately you're going to fail a thousand times, but you believe in yourself and you believe that you make it better and eventually you will succeed. It's a superpower. You're unstoppable. So I like to think I try to get into that mentality always and totally be OK with it. And even a lot of employees who are this is the first time they've ever joined a startup. And it was hard to break them out of their their notion of, oh, something's going wrong, things are really bad. It's OK if things go wrong, as long as you solve it. No one expects you to be one hundred percent perfect from day one. We're a startup, we're growing, we're learning. But as long as we constantly do our best effort, chip away at the problems, keep building as more problems arise, figure out a solution and fix it. You know, we're five years old. We're still having tons of issues, but we have a lot less issues now than we did a year ago. And we have different issues now. And then five months from now, we'll have a lot less issues than we had now and there'll be other issues. So it's just constantly being OK with that failure, in that case being, you know, it's all for a greater purpose.


Chris Byers: You know, I think that's wonderful advice. It was actually Joel Sapolsky who really opened my eyes. I was six months into the job and I took it over from our founder and a good friend of mine. But I was trying to run the business for a long time thinking like, oh, what would he do? Because it's been successful so far because he's been here. And Joel talked about this idea where he had the exact same experience with stock exchange. And at some point he was like, oh, this has to be my vision. And what that means is if it's my vision that I may fall flat on my face tomorrow, but that's the only way I can know how to actually go forward, because I know I am motivated. I know why I want to solve the problem. And I can't tell you how many times I've had to come back to this idea that I can't worry about what other people's expectations are or what I think the next smarter CEO might do in this case. I've got to say, I'm going to own this problem. And if I fail tomorrow, well, at least I know why I failed and why I chose to to make the decisions. I love that thinking.


Jeremy Parker: You have to think that way. And it's really I think for me, it's I'm lucky. I feel very lucky. I got to a place where I'm totally OK with failure. And I think once you get to that mentality, then I'm OK with failure ultimately, but I'm OK failing on a daily basis because. I feel like when you're failing more, the more you fail, the further you're getting to ultimately get to the right place and with the right solution is so it's totally ok. It's just a part of the process. And as long as you know it's part of the process, then nothing could derail you.


Chris Byers: I think that's so applicable not just to leaders or the senior leader of an organization, but to leaders all across the organization. The moment you are willing to say, I'm going to do something and take enough risk and I'm OK failing, that's the moment you're really going to move forward. If you're always just trying to think, what are the rules, what are the best way to do this that I think somebody else wants me to do, it's always going to hold you back. So I think it's wonderful advice. As we kind of begin to wrap up the conversation, we've talked about this idea that really can be overwhelming in some ways. And I'm curious, where do you think people should start when they think about starting a business or how do they get just going and take those first steps?


Jeremy Parker: Find an industry that you're passionate about. You don't have to have the right solution, but find something that you're passionate about. Because what's going to happen is if you ever get hit in the face and at startups, you are going to get smacked in the face thousands of times on a daily basis. A lot of people I've seen start businesses. And then the first issue, they pack it up and they're over it. For a business to succeed, it's going to take many, many years. Whatever you're doing, you're going to be in it for many, many years until you get to that successful outcome that you'll ultimately want. Or it could be forever. Could be your whole life depends on really what you want to do with it. So I think really find the industry that you're super passionate about and then just be OK with not knowing what the right answer is. You know, be OK with learning, be open minded, start to talk to all customers. Your idea from day one might completely change on the second week or the third week, and it might pivot in the third year like things are constantly going to be evolving and changing and just be open minded to maybe not knowing what the right answer is. But as long as you feel like you're on the path or you're eager to find the right answer, you're going to find it. You're going to figure it out. You know, it's never over until it's over. It's unlimited what you could possibly do. So I would just say, put yourself out there. Don't be scared of failure. Try to learn as much as possible and constantly move and pivot as much as you can until you get to a place where it's right.


Chris Byers: Well, I've got a handful of kind of rapid fire questions to kind of end up on. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity in your business processes?


Jeremy Parker: Simplicity. I always think, I don't know if it's simplicity, but I always think of consistency. I think a lot of people in this world are not necessarily consistent. As long as you're consistent and you're working really hard and you're working towards a problem and trying to figure out a solution every single day. And you might have great days and you might have really bad days. But as long as you're consistent more days than you're not consistent, you'll ultimately get to the place where you want to be. So trying to simplify it, trying to be really focused on what the main goal is, you know, not get distracted by too many things, really try to say what's the ultimate goal? What's my North Star, as they say, and really trying to be laser focused on that and consistently laser focus on it until you get it to be really right.


Chris Byers: And tell us, what's your go to productivity tip is.


Jeremy Parker: For me, it's honestly running. I run in the morning, I have to clear my head. It allows me to be way more productive throughout the day. I think if I just started the day and went into the office, my head will be all over the place. So I think having a clear mind going into it, really think from like the bird's eye view every single day and kind of resetting yourself and try to understand what the main objectives are. And what I do is once I get into the office before I even open on my computer, before I talk to anybody, I write down all the ideas I've been thinking about on that run to make sure I don't forget it and try to organize my day in some ways, like what's the big picture ideas and what's kind of more of the granular things. And I think just having a to do list, having a clear head and a to do list, you could constantly feel like you're checking things off the box and you start getting those early wins. It could be something very simple as just like you have a call with the tech team, you do every day. But being able to check it off the list makes you feel like you're accomplishing something and you're getting to your next phase. So building on wins, I think is very important.


Chris Byers: All right. And how will you be reimagining your work moving forward?


Jeremy Parker: We have a really good game plan for the next six months. Now, obviously, the world could change dramatically again. So we will have to always keep our finger on the pulse. But for us, it's really trying to focus on the distribution. We've really streamlined the entire experience of buying swag. Now it's about making the entire experience of distributing swag automated and simple and streamlined. And that means once we have this swag distribution platform really to where it needs to be and now we're about eighty five percent of where the ultimate vision of it is, then how do you automate the distribution? So, you know, integrating into HubSpot in Marketo and Salesforce or Justworks or HR solutions and allowing people to kind of set it and forget it. Like a person's birthday, be able to automatically send them swag, a person's five year anniversary, send them swag. Somebody hasn't responded to your email, press a button in Salesforce and sends them swag to kind of close the deal. Somebody fills out a form or attends one of your events through Marketo or HubSpot, it automatically triggers a notification to send them something. Try to figure out a process for people to buy swag up front once, say, in the programs, decide how they want and who should be getting stuff based on triggers and then just kind of let the magic happen and allow it to be super automated. So that's ultimately where our goal is and we're hoping to get to that place by middle of next year.


Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up this episode featuring Jeremy Parker, there's a handful of things that I just heard that I thought were really powerful. One is it's really important for you to find a problem that you care about. If you can find that problem, get focused on it, be consistent, spend time with it, you're going to get somewhere and you're going to solve some cool problems in the world. Have a willingness to fail and willingness to kind of learn from that and move on and keep moving toward success, but have those daily failures so you can get to the long term success. Find ways to clear your mind, whether it's running or something else that helps you get away from the day to day so your thoughts can actually get organized and get kind of cleaned up and you can get focused on what's really important.

Thank you for joining us for this episode and season, we'll be back next year with new guests, new topics, and even more ways to reimagine work. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to get new episodes when they drop, or head to formstack.com/podcasts to catch up on any episodes you missed.

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. And in this episode, we are talking with Jeremy Parker. He is the CEO and co-founder of Swag.com. It's an e-commerce platform for purchasing promotional materials.

Jeremy is passionate about creating a conscientious business, serving the best interest of his employees and customers. And in our conversation, we're going to dig into how he's built a responsible business model while experiencing exponential growth, particularly during a time where others in his industry are declining. How has he reimagined his work and Swag.com's ability to grow. Let's find out.

Jeremy, welcome to Ripple Effect.


Jeremy Parker: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.


Chris Byers: As we get started, I'd love to hear and love for you to share with our listeners your background. How did you get to Swag.com, what's some history there that got you to today?

Jeremy Parker: Yes, I started as a filmmaker. I went to Boston University. I was a documentary filmmaker. I really went to college specifically for marketing or so I thought. And when I went to BU and I was looking at the course curriculum, I looked at the film program and the marketing program, I realized that they were pretty much exactly the same thing except for film. I will learn how to make videos and tell stories through videos. And this is at the onset when YouTube is starting. And I figured that's the really the way to go. And during my time there, I created a feature length documentary called One Percent that ultimately ended up winning the audience award at the Vail Film Festival, a really big film festival. And I remember I was in Vail and after the awards ceremony and I go down to the celebrity or quote unquote celebrity brunch and half the room was celebrities and half the room were these these artists, struggling artists. And I realized I had to kind of do an internal gut check, do I want this to be my life? It was a very weird flight home, you know, going back to Boston, going back to to college where I was, had pretty much the highs of the high you could get to in this independent film world. But I really realized that this was not the path for me or wasn't what I truly loved and what I wanted to do.

So after college, I started my first company and I had no business experience whatsoever. So I thought, what business can I start that I could learn all the different aspects of business? So I thought starting a t-shirt company, I could learn how to build an e-commerce site and how to do the marketing and how to do production, manufacturing and all the different aspects of business. I did this for about two years; I launched it in 2007. So if you could remember 2007, this is when all the banks were going under. It was a really bad time, especially for really high end t-shirts. And we were selling two hundred t-shirts to different boutiques all around the world. And these boutiques just ended up closing a lot of them. And what we did was we started a marketing, kind of gimmicky now that I think about it, but at the time I tied the prices of our shirts to the price of the Dow Jones. So for every hundred points the Dow dropped, the customers would get a discount on the t-shirt price. And it's a little gimmicky, but it ended up getting picked up by Mark Cuban's blog, Blog Maverick, which got a lot of eyeballs and then ultimately got picked up by Ad Age, which ran the whole feature on the story and how we're able to pivot during this really difficult period of time. And it got on the radar of this guy, Eliot Peyser.

Eliot Peyser is the CEO of Weatherproof Garment Company. And I ended up meeting with Eliot and we became friends.  I would show up as office, you know, once a week for a period of time and just kind of spit ball ideas. He was a very creative guy and we were just throwing ideas against the wall. And they also owned another business called MV Sport. Now MV Sport is one of the largest players in the promotional product space. Now, I had no knowledge of this promotional product space. I had no clue what it was. I didn't know anything about it. This was around 2009 at the time. But being around Eliot and going to different events and trade shows with Eliot, I realized that it was kind of a missing piece in this industry. So I started a creative division under MV Sport really about twelve years ago, thirteen years ago at this point. And I learned a lot about the industry as a whole, who the buyer was, what the problems of the industry were. And then you fast forward 10 years. I've done a lot of different things from starting a company with my brother and Jesse Esler that ultimately ended up selling to a publicly traded company that was around social media influencers.

I found myself ultimately always constantly thinking about the swag space and how there hasn't really been a player that's reimagined it or innovated it at all. And the aha moment of starting Swag was the industries remain old, fragmented, and broken. But the buyer changed. And once I realized that the buyer is no longer this forty, fifty year old office manager and it's a millennial buyer. Well how do you build a platform really focus on today's buyer. So 2016, started Swag.com. We've grown five years in a row. We were just named the 218th fastest growing company on the Inc 500 in 2020. We have over five thousand customers from Facebook and Google and Amazon and Netflix and Spotify and TikTok to much smaller companies. And we're really trying to streamline the entire experience, making it really easy for customers to not only find what they're looking for, design it, and buy it in a matter of seconds, but also send it out and distribute it to all of their remote employees, all of their best customers, all of their leads. So a really robust swag management and distribution platform, all in one.


Chris Byers: Well, that is an amazing story and I love the gist. Well, the story of how you used the Dow Jones kind of going up and down to change pricing, like just love the unique kind of thinking there. And it's funny you made the point you didn't know how to start a business or you didn't know what starting a business was like. And yet I actually think that's probably what's giving you the freedom to build a great business is not having a bunch of rules that you were trying to follow, but rather, how do I just see a problem and go try to work against it and make make some impact? What do you think keeps you motivated to kind of continue to build businesses?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, I always think about this. A lot of people ask me that question. I'm constantly thinking about it. It's not to make money. I'm not really that kind of person who's like, I need to make more money, make it bigger and bigger. It's kind of an internal thing. You know, I see a problem and I want to fix it. I'm like, I'm a tinkerer, I'm more of a creative in that way of trying to see the big problem, how people are doing it and trying to do it in a different way. That, I think is the right way of making people's lives a lot easier. You know, swag, it seems like such a a non-sexy industry. No one really thinks to get into the promotional product space. Many people actually think of it as throwaway items. And I want to combat that because swag is such a powerful marketing tool if it's done right. And that's a big caveat. If it's done right, it needs to be high quality. People need to get it and actually want to keep it and they want to use it. And then it's really valuable. You know, you think of in general a lot of marketing initiatives. And you watch TV and you fast forward through commercials. Right. People are trained to avoid ads at all costs. You're browsing the internet and you put the ad blocker and and it blocks those ads, or you're looking through a magazine and you flip through the ads, you want to get to the content. People are programmatically set at this point to avoid ads at all costs. And with swag, what do you say when somebody gives you a really high quality piece of products or something you say thank you. It really does make an impact when you give them something that they're actually going to value.

So my entire business, it was from the very beginning, was really focused on, well, let's curate the best of what's out there. You know, I don't need to offer a thousand pens, a thousand notebooks. Let's curate. Let's make it really easy for customers to find what they're looking for and make sure that every single thing on our site is quality. But then who has time to look through these big catalogs and wasting paper and all these things that just doesn't make any sense. Let them streamline it. Let them find it. Upload their logo. Our system detects how many colors are in the logo. Click a button, checkout, click a button and send it to a thousand different addresses. I want it in the marketing closet or sales closet. A London office. New York office. You could break it down by department location, permission settings, approval flows, automate the entire experience and just free up your time. You shouldn't be wasting your time on swag. So we want to really streamline the entire experience for everybody we know.


Chris Byers: You're beginning to talk about something that I think is is really important. And it's really how does the user experience impact not only your ability as a business owner, founder, CEO, grow the business, but as a way to kind of give people an easy way to get the job done? I can't tell you how much I see where user experience just completely blocks kind of a company's ability to grow and kind of serve their customers because... It doesn't even have to be hard stuff. It can be things that are just like tedious and that extra few seconds. But every day, like, it'll tax you over time and eventually causes you to to not want to buy or not want to use the product. And there's almost probably a granular in the weeds thing that you're talking about that not everybody always realizes they need to do. Sometimes as a CEO, you kind of think, oh, I cast vision and all that, but at times you do need to kind of get into the weeds. How do you think about that?


Jeremy Parker: One hundred percent. I mean, when we started this business, I was not only CEO, I was head of product, I was head intern, I was head deliveryman. You have to do everything, especially at the very beginning. You have very limited resources. I'll tell you the story of when we started. So our first customer ever was Facebook, which sounds crazy to think that your first customer is such a big company, but that was by design. When we started the business, we realized we had this amazing Swag.com brand name, which took us about nine months to get. And we had no website and we frankly didn't know exactly the right experience to build. My experience in promotional products, fourteen years ago, things were very fragmented, stale, and broken, but it changed a little bit. And I wanted to do the first year just kind of a deep dive on who the customer really is and understand what product we should actually be building. So we were traveling salesman and I would knock on doors and would go to big offices and I would look at, reach out to all my LinkedIn friends and see where they worked and even if they didn't buy swag, but just try to get into the office. This is really what we did for Facebook. We got into the office through a friend and we walked up and down the hallways just meeting people and speaking to people until somebody want to buy something from us, and it didn't matter about how much money we were going to make, it was just trying to learn from the customer and get those row of logos, that social proof.

The second day I went to work and when they asked us who else we work with, I said Facebook. And they probably assume we work with thousands of other customers. But really, it was their second day of sales. And we work just with Facebook and we repeat that cycle to get that row of logos of blue chip companies. Really do the unscalable things. In the beginning, you have to do everything. It's unscalable. We had no platform, but then we learned as much as we could that first year, built this automated ecommerce experience and really grew it, you know, going from 350,000 the first year to 1.1 million through the ecommerce site, the second year to 3.1 million to 6.9 million, consistently growing. And what's interesting is this year is the first year we're going to break 10 million in sales in the pandemic, but the first year we ever hired a salesperson, all of our sales came completely inbound, no outbound whatsoever. And we had two customer service reps handling all those orders. So our entire vision from the very beginning was there's so much friction, there's so many roadblocks, so many hurdles that people have to do. Traditionally with selling of these promotional products, how can we streamline everything, whether it's our end of how to process orders to make our jobs a lot easier so we could scale infinitely amount like we could go from 500,000 dollars a month to three million dollars another month and have the same exact team. How many sales can we actually convert with like a two person team? And that's what we've been trying to do, keep it as super lean as possible, but really allow ourselves to grow. And what's exciting is, you know, in March when the pandemic hit, we were doing about 350,000 in sales. And now last month we did about 2 million in sales and we have pretty much the same exact team. So it just shows that we're able to grow now and scale and automate the experience of not only customers, but for our team to process more orders. But you have to start from from ground one. You're not going to have that process from the day one. So you have to learn as much as possible and you have to be OK doing those hard chores or the things that maybe doesn't sound fun or sexy or exciting. You have to, you know, roll up your sleeves.


Chris Byers: That is truly great to hear how you've thought about that. I'm curious, you've obviously at this point experienced in business a couple of major either recessions or like that, even whether it's a blip or something, recession or whatever, this year. How have you been able to kind of navigate through that? And how have you approached when you've seen those moments coming?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, it's hard. It's not I'm not going to say it was easy or I had the answer. You know, when the pandemic hit, it really hurt our business. It hurt our whole industry. The whole promotional product industry is down upwards of 44% this year versus last year. And it makes sense on the surface.

You know, we had the HR manager for a company buying swag for internal use to give to onboarding of new hires. And no one's hiring right now or you have the marketing team buying for trade shows. There are no trade shows going on. Or you're the office manager buying for the swag office or company culture in the office and no one's in the office. So on the surface, when you're faced with that and you go from 200,000 dollars the first week of March and sales of 19,000 the second week, you really have to do an internal gut check and say, what do we have that could win in this space? Like how how can we adapt? And we've done a lot of things and we threw a lot of things at the wall and some things worked and some things really didn't work.

You know, we were the first ones that I know of to start really selling masks. And right when it came out selling blank masks, it was actually the only product we ever sold on our site that you didn't have to upload your logo on. Our site is all about customization, and we started offering just masks. A lot of our suppliers, you know, repurpose their facilities to make masks. And we felt like we have this huge database and infrastructure of suppliers that we could really be of help. So we launched this mask program for every 100 masks that are bought, We donate 10 to people in need, you know, front line workers, homeless shelters, different people who we can help because we knew a lot of people were very nervous and didn't have, you know, the supply chain that we had. And we donated over 4,000 masks during that period of time. And that honestly was great because we felt like we're giving back and we're helping humanity and just people as a whole. But also it actually kept the business afloat. Now, we were growing then, but it allowed us to not have to lay off a lot of our team members, you know, to keep the team as intact, which is very important for us as our team is our family. So it's really important that we did everything we possibly could to make it through it. And then ultimately we ended up allowing this to really grow in the last five months have been the best five months we've ever done as the swag distribution platform.

We really got a feeling as we were building this platform about two years ago where we saw the transition to work from home. Now, we never thought a pandemic with it. We never thought it would take off like this. And hopefully the world gets back on track sometime soon. But we were building a platform for this work from home where people may not, we felt like they may not have to go to a trade show or they didn't want to go to the office every day. How can we build a simple process for people to be able to distribute swag, send it to remote addresses? Whether they want to send it to one address at a time or thousands at a time, we should build the platform to allow them to do that. So we've been building this process for two years and when this pandemic hit, we really had to reposition it because it was structured and formatted for a marketing team and sales teams, and we really had to kind of redevelop how we sell the platform to engage with the office manager and how they engage the remote employees to keep the company culture thriving even when no one's in the office. So there's a lot of transition and a lot of moving parts, but ultimately it ends up working for us and it's a constant grind. You know, hopefully we'll be able to keep this momentum up and keep helping our customers and allowing them to do business in such a strange time for everyone.


Chris Byers: So one of the things you touched on a couple of times there was this idea of impact, whether that's impact of making sure our organization still has the cash to pay for people's salaries and keep them going, but also opportunities to kind of give back. How do you think about what impact needs to look like from a business and how you go about it?


Jeremy Parker: It's interesting. I mean, I think we just want to sleep well at night. You want to have a feeling when you're in the office that's not just business. You know, obviously the business has to succeed and we want it to succeed for everyone within the company because that will allow people to have a great job and have longevity in their career. But it also needs to feel right. So whenever we're approaching anything, we always think, is this the right thing to do or can we help in any way?

From the very beginning of our business, we launched a program called Swag Swap. It was literally at the top even before we had a website built, we had a landing page and we had this this little link in the bottom that said Swag Swap. So our program, basically the whole idea is you buy swag from other companies or you have old swag in your closet. If you donate that swag to people in need, we'll give you a discount on new swag through us. And we baked it into the core principles of our business of how to give back even the entire process of being super curated and only offering the best and highest quality products is because, frankly, it's upsetting to see tons of things being wasted from companies and then thrown in the trash. It doesn't do the company any good. It costs the company money. It tarnishes the brand. It's not great for the environment.

So we felt like we need to change how people think of swag. It needs to be all about high quality. It's the only way this is going to work. It's they only way it's sustainable. So we're really trying to focus on quality products from the get go. It's in our DNA. And then whenever something arises where there's a challenge, we're constantly thinking, well, can we add and try to help the world in any way, in a small way? No, we're not moving the needle in such a massive way. We're still a small startup. But anything you could possibly do that I think benefits you, whether it's your team members or your customers or your community as a whole, you should strive for.


Chris Byers: So some people who are listening are probably earlier on in their career or they're running their first business. How has that changed over time and running more than one business? How is your kind of philosophy, let's say, on having an impact and being conscientious about the world changed?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know if it has changed. I think the bigger our business gets, the bigger impact theoretically you could have. But how I grew up, I was always around charity. So following my parents and being brought to different places to see the meaning, like what's important in this world is to give back, that's a big portion. Obviously, we're not a charity, we're a business, we're a startup, so our intention is to make money. But I think you can give back, you can do good things even when you do have a business and even, you know, it's not like one or the other or corporations are bad or this, like you can have a successful business. And as a business person, it's important that we make money as the first thing that we focus on. But as you get bigger, you always have a way to make a bigger impact. And I think now as we're scaling, we're hopefully going to be able to continue that, hopefully be able to hire more people, hopefully make that experience really great for our team members and really take care of them and their families and really just have them in mind. I think just constantly having your team in mind, constantly having your customers in mind and your community in mind, I think makes a better business as well.


Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit more about those experiences, that kind of maybe as you were growing up, that have informed the way you do think about having an impact.


Jeremy Parker: When I was much younger, like 11 years old, I went with my family to Israel and we went to this orphanage in Netanya in Israel. And I saw all these kids. There's hundreds of kids who didn't have a great family life who are living in this orphanage. And I went to all the different rooms. I remember I was around their age at the time. Some were a little older, some a little younger. And we became friends. I was running around with them and playing soccer with them all day. And I went to the room just to see where they were sleeping and where they're living. And I noticed that they didn't have any toys. And for me, it's such a small thing. Right. You're a kid, and I realize none of these kids had toys in the room. So I brought up to my parents and I said, you know what would be really great? My bar mitzvah, you get a bar mitzvah when you're thirteen, I said, it would be really great if I can raise money for these children and just donate. I didn't know it would turn into, just maybe raise a little bit of money and donate and buy some toys for these kids and give it to the orphanage and they could give it to the kids on their birthday or for holidays, etc.. So I launched with a friend of mine, my backyard. Remember this very vividly. We launched a carnival and it was like a small carnival with the water balloon fights and stuff like that. And we raised about a thousand dollars from the community and we ended up buying toys and we sent it to Israel. And what they did was, which is amazing, they set up a room, a small closet, like a really small closet that was called the Jeremy Parker Toy Room, right, and they put the toys in there, and then when other donors and other people came to visit this facility, this orphanage, they saw that Jeremy Parker toy room and they wanted to donate. And now it's been, I'm 35 now, so what, 22 years since then. And I visited them several times. They have this toy room. It's always been stocked and you realize just a small idea and the impact it could have on people's lives. So from very early on I realized that and kind of taking it to business. Now, obviously, I'm not running a charity, but you do constantly, always think of you know, how can you help people? I think it's just the basic instinct of how to help people. And I think if you think that way, you're going to be the best CEO you possibly could be because you're going to put yourself in situations of the people you need who are doing this with you, your team members, thinking about what they're going through, this pandemic. They're all working remotely. They're all scared. You know, everyone is nervous and trying to do whatever you can to make people as a whole, whoever you work with, have the best possible experience.


Chris Byers: Yeah, I think often in leadership, even as leaders, we often look to other people for the answer or look to other people for like what's the government going to do? What's somebody else going to do? And I love this idea that you're talking about, which is really we're the ones who can make a difference. And we can and we can make decisions. We can spend time with people to really encourage them and help them work through all the challenges that are going on right now. And I think we sometimes as leaders also think that it's business first and such. And we're not out to your point, doing charity work, but having an impact on people's lives is vital and important. Well, when we kind of take a step back and think about this year, just think about crafting a great business. We've been talking about this idea of reimagining your world of work. So what does it mean to you when I say that? What does it mean to reimagine work?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know. I say I'm constantly thinking about that and how the world will change and how it has changed already and how I don't know if it will ever go back to what it was. We have our office in New York City. We haven't got rid of it. We just actually got it. Three months before the pandemic on a three year lease, we have one or two people go into the office every day. We have a team of 26 in New York and people are scared. So I don't know. I'm not going to ever force them to go back in the office until there's a vaccine, until people feel safe. So we have been able to work remotely and it's been actually we've been able to to manage it.

I love working in the office. I love the creativity of the office. You're by the watercooler, you go to the kitchen and you just bump into somebody you might not ever really talk to, you know I'm the CEO so I'm dealing a lot with the executives. And you might not talk to every single person in the company at all times, but just being able to see people's face, have a conversation, you know, something sparks an idea and then it leads down the rabbit hole. Then you book a conference room and now you're speaking about something your never thought about speaking about for three hours. And that happens. And that stuff is really exciting. I love that. I love that creativity in that environment. And we're missing that. I've been trying to keep it as much as possible. It's not easy. And what I've been doing personally is I message different team members, unannounced, unscheduled, and just start talking to them. And the conversation could be a minute. It could be five minutes, could be half an hour. But try to get people to feel more connected, try to replicate that office environment and the office feel.

And I think a lot of people are going through this where they're not sure what's going to happen in the future. They may do partially back in the office, you know, maybe all remote. And I think we just have to be constantly adapting and looking at how the market reacts. That's really it. Just looking how our customers and our customers are office managers, HR managers, how are they doing business. And we have to make our service useful for them. Our whole business is trying to make their lives a lot easier. So right now it's a wide distribution platform. This is saving people a ton of time instead of having to ship products to their office or now to their home, packaged things up themselves and they go to the UPS store and ship it all over the place. We handle everything for them. Instead of having an office manager or somebody is launching a virtual event, have to gather everyone's address. Who's attending that event? We've built solutions that allow people to capture that information with t-shirt size the recipient is and try to humanize virtual events through a platform. But as the world changes and continues to shift, we'll constantly have to have our finger on the pulse and constantly keep developing and making the experience better for all of our customers.


Chris Byers: As you think about working at home more often, one of the things that means is that less and less people get to see what you're doing everyday. How does your personal life even play out at work? Tell us about a day in your life? What does that look like?


Jeremy Parker: So now I just actually had a baby, my first child in July, so it's a lot of stuff going on during this pandemic. I ended up ultimately moving with my wife and my child into my parents house, because New York City at the onset of the pandemic was very scary, it wasn't a place that we wanted to be. So we left for a couple of months, ultimately moved back to the city, had the baby. Now we're living back in Jersey in our own place, we're getting used to this new, this new normal. I'm waking up a lot earlier. I have the baby still in my room. I take about an hour to an hour and a half walk or run every single morning trying to clear my head, get into the office eight thirty nine o'clock and do all my calls, have my lead designers based in London. So I do an hour design call with them every morning. Our tech team is based in Ukraine. They're seven hours ahead. So I do an hour tech call with our CTO who's based in Ukraine. I do those two calls because for me that's my passion, it's what I'm most interested in is the product, the user experience, what features we need to build, how to solve problems, constantly talking to our customer success team and our team and trying to understand because they really have the best finger on the pulse at this point.

You know, four years ago, five years ago, when we started the business, I knew exactly what our customers wanted because I was the one talking to our customers on a daily basis. Now it's we have a team doing that. And it's very important that I'm always in the loop in understanding what features we don't have or what we can make better or what's not clear to trying to really understand that through our customer successes and our operations is to make the backend work simpler for them to process more. So we don't have to throw people at problems, which a lot of companies do, and we could streamline it and make it automated and simple. So keep the team super lean, but do five, 10 times the work that we're currently doing and that's our goal.

But then really taking that information from our team and learning from our team as much as we can and bringing and trying to manage the process with the user experience in design. And in the second half of the day, it's like every other CEO's job, managing issues, problem solving, talking to potential partners, thinking outside the box and trying to come up with long term solutions, fundraising, etc.. So it's busy, and it feels it's even gotten busier since we've been home because it feels like there is no break, really. So it's constant and it might not be healthy, but it's what needs to happen during this kind of changing time. I think for right now, especially for our business, we've been growing tremendously fast, you know, going from 350,000 a month in March to two million, approximately two million last month and the month before, 1.4 million, which is the first time we ever broke a million the previous month before that was 992,000. So really scaling up, really growing and having the exact same team that's doing it. So a lot of challenges come up with a lot of problems. And that's what we're excited about. We love when challenges happen because it means we're on the right path and now we're doing something is difficult and it means that we're doing something that it was difficult for other people. They're not doing it. We should be the ones doing it and really trying to streamline our entire experience.


Chris Byers: I think you're right that there's so much I think everybody is experiencing right now the odd feeling of like I'm at home, I'm out doing things less, but somehow I feel like I'm working more or I'm busier than ever. And so I do think those things like you suggested or are doing yourself, getting out and and running or walking or whatever for an hour like those are those are really good practices to help keep our minds kind of focused and keep us from being one hundred percent work all the time, because that can definitely be taxing. You know, we talk about creating a digitally agile workforce and you obviously use technology all day, every day to accomplish what you're doing. Tell us about that technology. What are you doing to kind of stay competitive, stay ahead of the competition?


Jeremy Parker: Yes. So everything on our site is pretty much fully custom. So we're constantly not really looking at our competitors. Honestly, I didn't look at any of our competitors until year two because I didn't want to be led in a certain way that maybe they were doing something. And I would probably have to believe that they're doing it because it's the right way to do it. So we took a really kind of a simple approach, like don't even look at our competitors for the first version of the platform. Let's just talk to our customers and design a platform that we would think makes the most sense really from the ground up. So that's what we did. And I think it's allowed us to think of the whole industry a little bit different than everyone else is thinking of it. So that's been really great.

But then you kind of start layering different features and different functionality. So we've added Intercom, which has been probably our best tool that we use to engage with our customers. All of our customers are inbound and a lot of our customers check out without speaking to anybody, which is awesome. And a lot of our customers need to ask questions, which is totally great. It's like, is this product going to come out in time? Is it going to look perfect? You know, they want to feel confident before they check out with a large order, especially if they're buying it on behalf of their company. A lot's on the line. So having Intercom has been an incredibly vital tool for us to really engage with our customers in real time, answer their questions and get them to feel confident with ordering.

Obviously all the backend features, backend platforms like HubSpot and Marketo really trying to automate the marketing because our team is very limited. How do you engage with your best customers? How do you convert them and give them a great experience, so trying to just use as many tools, that doesn't make sense for us to build and all the things that are proprietary to us that is unique to us, that we want to own everything. So really trying to focus and build that right platform from day one and constantly listen to our customers as much as possible and constantly keep building and building, building so we chip away at it all like a blocking and tackling set. You get to a point where things are going to be really challenging and then when it's really challenging, you make it better and then there could be other challenges. So it's never going to be an end. And as long as you keep trying to innovate and push forward and do things that other people are not doing or do things that really makes sense for your customers, it's never going to get easy. But that's what I love about it. That's why we're in this business, to challenge ourselves and to grow and to build something better than what's out there.


Chris Byers: I think you've got some advice in there that sounds really interesting. And it sounds like there's times where it's valuable to go explore, like what's someone else in the world doing and maybe you want to repeat that. So what's everybody else doing for marketing automation? Let me go get some HubSpot. But then there's times where it sounds like you're saying it's actually smarter to not observe what else is going on in the world, but maybe simply sit and experience your problem, try to understand your problem and solve it in the way that you think is right. Can you describe that a little bit more?


Jeremy Parker: That's 100 percent right. In the very beginning of the business, I was doing a little bit of research before I really stopped myself. And you start to look at what else is out there. And at some point I was designing like a rabbit hole. I was designing the wrong experience and I knew it was the wrong experience. I was basing it on other customers and trying to make their experience better. And I kept finding myself like, why do I even have to do that? Like, shouldn't you be thinking about the big picture of if I was a customer and I landed on a promotional product site, what would I want the experience to be? And I didn't really know the answer to that. So I figured let me just speak to as many customers as possible and don't have this preconceived idea of what the right idea is. I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, you always either think you need to have the right idea from day one, which is not true, or that you have to feel that ego that it has to be my idea, which is not true.

I think as an entrepreneur and starting a business, you have to be totally OK with other people's opinion. You might not like the opinions. You might not have to agree with opinions, but you should be super open to it and you can't be fearful of starting something even if you had no idea. And I always say to friends of mine who are nervous, I don't have the right idea or is it going to work or not. If you really, truly believe that you're going to ultimately get the right idea, then just go out there, because it's never going to be what you expected from day one. You know, in a lot of times, fear kills more dreams than failure ever could. A lot of people are just scared of doing something, scared of putting themselves out there, scared of internally their mind, the people thinking of them as a failure. But if you can remove that fear, anything is possible. You're unlimited, it's like a superpower. Like if you're OK failing and you're learning and, you know, ultimately you're going to fail a thousand times, but you believe in yourself and you believe that you make it better and eventually you will succeed. It's a superpower. You're unstoppable. So I like to think I try to get into that mentality always and totally be OK with it. And even a lot of employees who are this is the first time they've ever joined a startup. And it was hard to break them out of their their notion of, oh, something's going wrong, things are really bad. It's OK if things go wrong, as long as you solve it. No one expects you to be one hundred percent perfect from day one. We're a startup, we're growing, we're learning. But as long as we constantly do our best effort, chip away at the problems, keep building as more problems arise, figure out a solution and fix it. You know, we're five years old. We're still having tons of issues, but we have a lot less issues now than we did a year ago. And we have different issues now. And then five months from now, we'll have a lot less issues than we had now and there'll be other issues. So it's just constantly being OK with that failure, in that case being, you know, it's all for a greater purpose.


Chris Byers: You know, I think that's wonderful advice. It was actually Joel Sapolsky who really opened my eyes. I was six months into the job and I took it over from our founder and a good friend of mine. But I was trying to run the business for a long time thinking like, oh, what would he do? Because it's been successful so far because he's been here. And Joel talked about this idea where he had the exact same experience with stock exchange. And at some point he was like, oh, this has to be my vision. And what that means is if it's my vision that I may fall flat on my face tomorrow, but that's the only way I can know how to actually go forward, because I know I am motivated. I know why I want to solve the problem. And I can't tell you how many times I've had to come back to this idea that I can't worry about what other people's expectations are or what I think the next smarter CEO might do in this case. I've got to say, I'm going to own this problem. And if I fail tomorrow, well, at least I know why I failed and why I chose to to make the decisions. I love that thinking.


Jeremy Parker: You have to think that way. And it's really I think for me, it's I'm lucky. I feel very lucky. I got to a place where I'm totally OK with failure. And I think once you get to that mentality, then I'm OK with failure ultimately, but I'm OK failing on a daily basis because. I feel like when you're failing more, the more you fail, the further you're getting to ultimately get to the right place and with the right solution is so it's totally ok. It's just a part of the process. And as long as you know it's part of the process, then nothing could derail you.


Chris Byers: I think that's so applicable not just to leaders or the senior leader of an organization, but to leaders all across the organization. The moment you are willing to say, I'm going to do something and take enough risk and I'm OK failing, that's the moment you're really going to move forward. If you're always just trying to think, what are the rules, what are the best way to do this that I think somebody else wants me to do, it's always going to hold you back. So I think it's wonderful advice. As we kind of begin to wrap up the conversation, we've talked about this idea that really can be overwhelming in some ways. And I'm curious, where do you think people should start when they think about starting a business or how do they get just going and take those first steps?


Jeremy Parker: Find an industry that you're passionate about. You don't have to have the right solution, but find something that you're passionate about. Because what's going to happen is if you ever get hit in the face and at startups, you are going to get smacked in the face thousands of times on a daily basis. A lot of people I've seen start businesses. And then the first issue, they pack it up and they're over it. For a business to succeed, it's going to take many, many years. Whatever you're doing, you're going to be in it for many, many years until you get to that successful outcome that you'll ultimately want. Or it could be forever. Could be your whole life depends on really what you want to do with it. So I think really find the industry that you're super passionate about and then just be OK with not knowing what the right answer is. You know, be OK with learning, be open minded, start to talk to all customers. Your idea from day one might completely change on the second week or the third week, and it might pivot in the third year like things are constantly going to be evolving and changing and just be open minded to maybe not knowing what the right answer is. But as long as you feel like you're on the path or you're eager to find the right answer, you're going to find it. You're going to figure it out. You know, it's never over until it's over. It's unlimited what you could possibly do. So I would just say, put yourself out there. Don't be scared of failure. Try to learn as much as possible and constantly move and pivot as much as you can until you get to a place where it's right.


Chris Byers: Well, I've got a handful of kind of rapid fire questions to kind of end up on. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity in your business processes?


Jeremy Parker: Simplicity. I always think, I don't know if it's simplicity, but I always think of consistency. I think a lot of people in this world are not necessarily consistent. As long as you're consistent and you're working really hard and you're working towards a problem and trying to figure out a solution every single day. And you might have great days and you might have really bad days. But as long as you're consistent more days than you're not consistent, you'll ultimately get to the place where you want to be. So trying to simplify it, trying to be really focused on what the main goal is, you know, not get distracted by too many things, really try to say what's the ultimate goal? What's my North Star, as they say, and really trying to be laser focused on that and consistently laser focus on it until you get it to be really right.


Chris Byers: And tell us, what's your go to productivity tip is.


Jeremy Parker: For me, it's honestly running. I run in the morning, I have to clear my head. It allows me to be way more productive throughout the day. I think if I just started the day and went into the office, my head will be all over the place. So I think having a clear mind going into it, really think from like the bird's eye view every single day and kind of resetting yourself and try to understand what the main objectives are. And what I do is once I get into the office before I even open on my computer, before I talk to anybody, I write down all the ideas I've been thinking about on that run to make sure I don't forget it and try to organize my day in some ways, like what's the big picture ideas and what's kind of more of the granular things. And I think just having a to do list, having a clear head and a to do list, you could constantly feel like you're checking things off the box and you start getting those early wins. It could be something very simple as just like you have a call with the tech team, you do every day. But being able to check it off the list makes you feel like you're accomplishing something and you're getting to your next phase. So building on wins, I think is very important.


Chris Byers: All right. And how will you be reimagining your work moving forward?


Jeremy Parker: We have a really good game plan for the next six months. Now, obviously, the world could change dramatically again. So we will have to always keep our finger on the pulse. But for us, it's really trying to focus on the distribution. We've really streamlined the entire experience of buying swag. Now it's about making the entire experience of distributing swag automated and simple and streamlined. And that means once we have this swag distribution platform really to where it needs to be and now we're about eighty five percent of where the ultimate vision of it is, then how do you automate the distribution? So, you know, integrating into HubSpot in Marketo and Salesforce or Justworks or HR solutions and allowing people to kind of set it and forget it. Like a person's birthday, be able to automatically send them swag, a person's five year anniversary, send them swag. Somebody hasn't responded to your email, press a button in Salesforce and sends them swag to kind of close the deal. Somebody fills out a form or attends one of your events through Marketo or HubSpot, it automatically triggers a notification to send them something. Try to figure out a process for people to buy swag up front once, say, in the programs, decide how they want and who should be getting stuff based on triggers and then just kind of let the magic happen and allow it to be super automated. So that's ultimately where our goal is and we're hoping to get to that place by middle of next year.


Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up this episode featuring Jeremy Parker, there's a handful of things that I just heard that I thought were really powerful. One is it's really important for you to find a problem that you care about. If you can find that problem, get focused on it, be consistent, spend time with it, you're going to get somewhere and you're going to solve some cool problems in the world. Have a willingness to fail and willingness to kind of learn from that and move on and keep moving toward success, but have those daily failures so you can get to the long term success. Find ways to clear your mind, whether it's running or something else that helps you get away from the day to day so your thoughts can actually get organized and get kind of cleaned up and you can get focused on what's really important.

Thank you for joining us for this episode and season, we'll be back next year with new guests, new topics, and even more ways to reimagine work. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to get new episodes when they drop, or head to formstack.com/podcasts to catch up on any episodes you missed.

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. And in this episode, we are talking with Jeremy Parker. He is the CEO and co-founder of Swag.com. It's an e-commerce platform for purchasing promotional materials.

Jeremy is passionate about creating a conscientious business, serving the best interest of his employees and customers. And in our conversation, we're going to dig into how he's built a responsible business model while experiencing exponential growth, particularly during a time where others in his industry are declining. How has he reimagined his work and Swag.com's ability to grow. Let's find out.

Jeremy, welcome to Ripple Effect.


Jeremy Parker: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.


Chris Byers: As we get started, I'd love to hear and love for you to share with our listeners your background. How did you get to Swag.com, what's some history there that got you to today?

Jeremy Parker: Yes, I started as a filmmaker. I went to Boston University. I was a documentary filmmaker. I really went to college specifically for marketing or so I thought. And when I went to BU and I was looking at the course curriculum, I looked at the film program and the marketing program, I realized that they were pretty much exactly the same thing except for film. I will learn how to make videos and tell stories through videos. And this is at the onset when YouTube is starting. And I figured that's the really the way to go. And during my time there, I created a feature length documentary called One Percent that ultimately ended up winning the audience award at the Vail Film Festival, a really big film festival. And I remember I was in Vail and after the awards ceremony and I go down to the celebrity or quote unquote celebrity brunch and half the room was celebrities and half the room were these these artists, struggling artists. And I realized I had to kind of do an internal gut check, do I want this to be my life? It was a very weird flight home, you know, going back to Boston, going back to to college where I was, had pretty much the highs of the high you could get to in this independent film world. But I really realized that this was not the path for me or wasn't what I truly loved and what I wanted to do.

So after college, I started my first company and I had no business experience whatsoever. So I thought, what business can I start that I could learn all the different aspects of business? So I thought starting a t-shirt company, I could learn how to build an e-commerce site and how to do the marketing and how to do production, manufacturing and all the different aspects of business. I did this for about two years; I launched it in 2007. So if you could remember 2007, this is when all the banks were going under. It was a really bad time, especially for really high end t-shirts. And we were selling two hundred t-shirts to different boutiques all around the world. And these boutiques just ended up closing a lot of them. And what we did was we started a marketing, kind of gimmicky now that I think about it, but at the time I tied the prices of our shirts to the price of the Dow Jones. So for every hundred points the Dow dropped, the customers would get a discount on the t-shirt price. And it's a little gimmicky, but it ended up getting picked up by Mark Cuban's blog, Blog Maverick, which got a lot of eyeballs and then ultimately got picked up by Ad Age, which ran the whole feature on the story and how we're able to pivot during this really difficult period of time. And it got on the radar of this guy, Eliot Peyser.

Eliot Peyser is the CEO of Weatherproof Garment Company. And I ended up meeting with Eliot and we became friends.  I would show up as office, you know, once a week for a period of time and just kind of spit ball ideas. He was a very creative guy and we were just throwing ideas against the wall. And they also owned another business called MV Sport. Now MV Sport is one of the largest players in the promotional product space. Now, I had no knowledge of this promotional product space. I had no clue what it was. I didn't know anything about it. This was around 2009 at the time. But being around Eliot and going to different events and trade shows with Eliot, I realized that it was kind of a missing piece in this industry. So I started a creative division under MV Sport really about twelve years ago, thirteen years ago at this point. And I learned a lot about the industry as a whole, who the buyer was, what the problems of the industry were. And then you fast forward 10 years. I've done a lot of different things from starting a company with my brother and Jesse Esler that ultimately ended up selling to a publicly traded company that was around social media influencers.

I found myself ultimately always constantly thinking about the swag space and how there hasn't really been a player that's reimagined it or innovated it at all. And the aha moment of starting Swag was the industries remain old, fragmented, and broken. But the buyer changed. And once I realized that the buyer is no longer this forty, fifty year old office manager and it's a millennial buyer. Well how do you build a platform really focus on today's buyer. So 2016, started Swag.com. We've grown five years in a row. We were just named the 218th fastest growing company on the Inc 500 in 2020. We have over five thousand customers from Facebook and Google and Amazon and Netflix and Spotify and TikTok to much smaller companies. And we're really trying to streamline the entire experience, making it really easy for customers to not only find what they're looking for, design it, and buy it in a matter of seconds, but also send it out and distribute it to all of their remote employees, all of their best customers, all of their leads. So a really robust swag management and distribution platform, all in one.


Chris Byers: Well, that is an amazing story and I love the gist. Well, the story of how you used the Dow Jones kind of going up and down to change pricing, like just love the unique kind of thinking there. And it's funny you made the point you didn't know how to start a business or you didn't know what starting a business was like. And yet I actually think that's probably what's giving you the freedom to build a great business is not having a bunch of rules that you were trying to follow, but rather, how do I just see a problem and go try to work against it and make make some impact? What do you think keeps you motivated to kind of continue to build businesses?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, I always think about this. A lot of people ask me that question. I'm constantly thinking about it. It's not to make money. I'm not really that kind of person who's like, I need to make more money, make it bigger and bigger. It's kind of an internal thing. You know, I see a problem and I want to fix it. I'm like, I'm a tinkerer, I'm more of a creative in that way of trying to see the big problem, how people are doing it and trying to do it in a different way. That, I think is the right way of making people's lives a lot easier. You know, swag, it seems like such a a non-sexy industry. No one really thinks to get into the promotional product space. Many people actually think of it as throwaway items. And I want to combat that because swag is such a powerful marketing tool if it's done right. And that's a big caveat. If it's done right, it needs to be high quality. People need to get it and actually want to keep it and they want to use it. And then it's really valuable. You know, you think of in general a lot of marketing initiatives. And you watch TV and you fast forward through commercials. Right. People are trained to avoid ads at all costs. You're browsing the internet and you put the ad blocker and and it blocks those ads, or you're looking through a magazine and you flip through the ads, you want to get to the content. People are programmatically set at this point to avoid ads at all costs. And with swag, what do you say when somebody gives you a really high quality piece of products or something you say thank you. It really does make an impact when you give them something that they're actually going to value.

So my entire business, it was from the very beginning, was really focused on, well, let's curate the best of what's out there. You know, I don't need to offer a thousand pens, a thousand notebooks. Let's curate. Let's make it really easy for customers to find what they're looking for and make sure that every single thing on our site is quality. But then who has time to look through these big catalogs and wasting paper and all these things that just doesn't make any sense. Let them streamline it. Let them find it. Upload their logo. Our system detects how many colors are in the logo. Click a button, checkout, click a button and send it to a thousand different addresses. I want it in the marketing closet or sales closet. A London office. New York office. You could break it down by department location, permission settings, approval flows, automate the entire experience and just free up your time. You shouldn't be wasting your time on swag. So we want to really streamline the entire experience for everybody we know.


Chris Byers: You're beginning to talk about something that I think is is really important. And it's really how does the user experience impact not only your ability as a business owner, founder, CEO, grow the business, but as a way to kind of give people an easy way to get the job done? I can't tell you how much I see where user experience just completely blocks kind of a company's ability to grow and kind of serve their customers because... It doesn't even have to be hard stuff. It can be things that are just like tedious and that extra few seconds. But every day, like, it'll tax you over time and eventually causes you to to not want to buy or not want to use the product. And there's almost probably a granular in the weeds thing that you're talking about that not everybody always realizes they need to do. Sometimes as a CEO, you kind of think, oh, I cast vision and all that, but at times you do need to kind of get into the weeds. How do you think about that?


Jeremy Parker: One hundred percent. I mean, when we started this business, I was not only CEO, I was head of product, I was head intern, I was head deliveryman. You have to do everything, especially at the very beginning. You have very limited resources. I'll tell you the story of when we started. So our first customer ever was Facebook, which sounds crazy to think that your first customer is such a big company, but that was by design. When we started the business, we realized we had this amazing Swag.com brand name, which took us about nine months to get. And we had no website and we frankly didn't know exactly the right experience to build. My experience in promotional products, fourteen years ago, things were very fragmented, stale, and broken, but it changed a little bit. And I wanted to do the first year just kind of a deep dive on who the customer really is and understand what product we should actually be building. So we were traveling salesman and I would knock on doors and would go to big offices and I would look at, reach out to all my LinkedIn friends and see where they worked and even if they didn't buy swag, but just try to get into the office. This is really what we did for Facebook. We got into the office through a friend and we walked up and down the hallways just meeting people and speaking to people until somebody want to buy something from us, and it didn't matter about how much money we were going to make, it was just trying to learn from the customer and get those row of logos, that social proof.

The second day I went to work and when they asked us who else we work with, I said Facebook. And they probably assume we work with thousands of other customers. But really, it was their second day of sales. And we work just with Facebook and we repeat that cycle to get that row of logos of blue chip companies. Really do the unscalable things. In the beginning, you have to do everything. It's unscalable. We had no platform, but then we learned as much as we could that first year, built this automated ecommerce experience and really grew it, you know, going from 350,000 the first year to 1.1 million through the ecommerce site, the second year to 3.1 million to 6.9 million, consistently growing. And what's interesting is this year is the first year we're going to break 10 million in sales in the pandemic, but the first year we ever hired a salesperson, all of our sales came completely inbound, no outbound whatsoever. And we had two customer service reps handling all those orders. So our entire vision from the very beginning was there's so much friction, there's so many roadblocks, so many hurdles that people have to do. Traditionally with selling of these promotional products, how can we streamline everything, whether it's our end of how to process orders to make our jobs a lot easier so we could scale infinitely amount like we could go from 500,000 dollars a month to three million dollars another month and have the same exact team. How many sales can we actually convert with like a two person team? And that's what we've been trying to do, keep it as super lean as possible, but really allow ourselves to grow. And what's exciting is, you know, in March when the pandemic hit, we were doing about 350,000 in sales. And now last month we did about 2 million in sales and we have pretty much the same exact team. So it just shows that we're able to grow now and scale and automate the experience of not only customers, but for our team to process more orders. But you have to start from from ground one. You're not going to have that process from the day one. So you have to learn as much as possible and you have to be OK doing those hard chores or the things that maybe doesn't sound fun or sexy or exciting. You have to, you know, roll up your sleeves.


Chris Byers: That is truly great to hear how you've thought about that. I'm curious, you've obviously at this point experienced in business a couple of major either recessions or like that, even whether it's a blip or something, recession or whatever, this year. How have you been able to kind of navigate through that? And how have you approached when you've seen those moments coming?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, it's hard. It's not I'm not going to say it was easy or I had the answer. You know, when the pandemic hit, it really hurt our business. It hurt our whole industry. The whole promotional product industry is down upwards of 44% this year versus last year. And it makes sense on the surface.

You know, we had the HR manager for a company buying swag for internal use to give to onboarding of new hires. And no one's hiring right now or you have the marketing team buying for trade shows. There are no trade shows going on. Or you're the office manager buying for the swag office or company culture in the office and no one's in the office. So on the surface, when you're faced with that and you go from 200,000 dollars the first week of March and sales of 19,000 the second week, you really have to do an internal gut check and say, what do we have that could win in this space? Like how how can we adapt? And we've done a lot of things and we threw a lot of things at the wall and some things worked and some things really didn't work.

You know, we were the first ones that I know of to start really selling masks. And right when it came out selling blank masks, it was actually the only product we ever sold on our site that you didn't have to upload your logo on. Our site is all about customization, and we started offering just masks. A lot of our suppliers, you know, repurpose their facilities to make masks. And we felt like we have this huge database and infrastructure of suppliers that we could really be of help. So we launched this mask program for every 100 masks that are bought, We donate 10 to people in need, you know, front line workers, homeless shelters, different people who we can help because we knew a lot of people were very nervous and didn't have, you know, the supply chain that we had. And we donated over 4,000 masks during that period of time. And that honestly was great because we felt like we're giving back and we're helping humanity and just people as a whole. But also it actually kept the business afloat. Now, we were growing then, but it allowed us to not have to lay off a lot of our team members, you know, to keep the team as intact, which is very important for us as our team is our family. So it's really important that we did everything we possibly could to make it through it. And then ultimately we ended up allowing this to really grow in the last five months have been the best five months we've ever done as the swag distribution platform.

We really got a feeling as we were building this platform about two years ago where we saw the transition to work from home. Now, we never thought a pandemic with it. We never thought it would take off like this. And hopefully the world gets back on track sometime soon. But we were building a platform for this work from home where people may not, we felt like they may not have to go to a trade show or they didn't want to go to the office every day. How can we build a simple process for people to be able to distribute swag, send it to remote addresses? Whether they want to send it to one address at a time or thousands at a time, we should build the platform to allow them to do that. So we've been building this process for two years and when this pandemic hit, we really had to reposition it because it was structured and formatted for a marketing team and sales teams, and we really had to kind of redevelop how we sell the platform to engage with the office manager and how they engage the remote employees to keep the company culture thriving even when no one's in the office. So there's a lot of transition and a lot of moving parts, but ultimately it ends up working for us and it's a constant grind. You know, hopefully we'll be able to keep this momentum up and keep helping our customers and allowing them to do business in such a strange time for everyone.


Chris Byers: So one of the things you touched on a couple of times there was this idea of impact, whether that's impact of making sure our organization still has the cash to pay for people's salaries and keep them going, but also opportunities to kind of give back. How do you think about what impact needs to look like from a business and how you go about it?


Jeremy Parker: It's interesting. I mean, I think we just want to sleep well at night. You want to have a feeling when you're in the office that's not just business. You know, obviously the business has to succeed and we want it to succeed for everyone within the company because that will allow people to have a great job and have longevity in their career. But it also needs to feel right. So whenever we're approaching anything, we always think, is this the right thing to do or can we help in any way?

From the very beginning of our business, we launched a program called Swag Swap. It was literally at the top even before we had a website built, we had a landing page and we had this this little link in the bottom that said Swag Swap. So our program, basically the whole idea is you buy swag from other companies or you have old swag in your closet. If you donate that swag to people in need, we'll give you a discount on new swag through us. And we baked it into the core principles of our business of how to give back even the entire process of being super curated and only offering the best and highest quality products is because, frankly, it's upsetting to see tons of things being wasted from companies and then thrown in the trash. It doesn't do the company any good. It costs the company money. It tarnishes the brand. It's not great for the environment.

So we felt like we need to change how people think of swag. It needs to be all about high quality. It's the only way this is going to work. It's they only way it's sustainable. So we're really trying to focus on quality products from the get go. It's in our DNA. And then whenever something arises where there's a challenge, we're constantly thinking, well, can we add and try to help the world in any way, in a small way? No, we're not moving the needle in such a massive way. We're still a small startup. But anything you could possibly do that I think benefits you, whether it's your team members or your customers or your community as a whole, you should strive for.


Chris Byers: So some people who are listening are probably earlier on in their career or they're running their first business. How has that changed over time and running more than one business? How is your kind of philosophy, let's say, on having an impact and being conscientious about the world changed?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know if it has changed. I think the bigger our business gets, the bigger impact theoretically you could have. But how I grew up, I was always around charity. So following my parents and being brought to different places to see the meaning, like what's important in this world is to give back, that's a big portion. Obviously, we're not a charity, we're a business, we're a startup, so our intention is to make money. But I think you can give back, you can do good things even when you do have a business and even, you know, it's not like one or the other or corporations are bad or this, like you can have a successful business. And as a business person, it's important that we make money as the first thing that we focus on. But as you get bigger, you always have a way to make a bigger impact. And I think now as we're scaling, we're hopefully going to be able to continue that, hopefully be able to hire more people, hopefully make that experience really great for our team members and really take care of them and their families and really just have them in mind. I think just constantly having your team in mind, constantly having your customers in mind and your community in mind, I think makes a better business as well.


Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit more about those experiences, that kind of maybe as you were growing up, that have informed the way you do think about having an impact.


Jeremy Parker: When I was much younger, like 11 years old, I went with my family to Israel and we went to this orphanage in Netanya in Israel. And I saw all these kids. There's hundreds of kids who didn't have a great family life who are living in this orphanage. And I went to all the different rooms. I remember I was around their age at the time. Some were a little older, some a little younger. And we became friends. I was running around with them and playing soccer with them all day. And I went to the room just to see where they were sleeping and where they're living. And I noticed that they didn't have any toys. And for me, it's such a small thing. Right. You're a kid, and I realize none of these kids had toys in the room. So I brought up to my parents and I said, you know what would be really great? My bar mitzvah, you get a bar mitzvah when you're thirteen, I said, it would be really great if I can raise money for these children and just donate. I didn't know it would turn into, just maybe raise a little bit of money and donate and buy some toys for these kids and give it to the orphanage and they could give it to the kids on their birthday or for holidays, etc.. So I launched with a friend of mine, my backyard. Remember this very vividly. We launched a carnival and it was like a small carnival with the water balloon fights and stuff like that. And we raised about a thousand dollars from the community and we ended up buying toys and we sent it to Israel. And what they did was, which is amazing, they set up a room, a small closet, like a really small closet that was called the Jeremy Parker Toy Room, right, and they put the toys in there, and then when other donors and other people came to visit this facility, this orphanage, they saw that Jeremy Parker toy room and they wanted to donate. And now it's been, I'm 35 now, so what, 22 years since then. And I visited them several times. They have this toy room. It's always been stocked and you realize just a small idea and the impact it could have on people's lives. So from very early on I realized that and kind of taking it to business. Now, obviously, I'm not running a charity, but you do constantly, always think of you know, how can you help people? I think it's just the basic instinct of how to help people. And I think if you think that way, you're going to be the best CEO you possibly could be because you're going to put yourself in situations of the people you need who are doing this with you, your team members, thinking about what they're going through, this pandemic. They're all working remotely. They're all scared. You know, everyone is nervous and trying to do whatever you can to make people as a whole, whoever you work with, have the best possible experience.


Chris Byers: Yeah, I think often in leadership, even as leaders, we often look to other people for the answer or look to other people for like what's the government going to do? What's somebody else going to do? And I love this idea that you're talking about, which is really we're the ones who can make a difference. And we can and we can make decisions. We can spend time with people to really encourage them and help them work through all the challenges that are going on right now. And I think we sometimes as leaders also think that it's business first and such. And we're not out to your point, doing charity work, but having an impact on people's lives is vital and important. Well, when we kind of take a step back and think about this year, just think about crafting a great business. We've been talking about this idea of reimagining your world of work. So what does it mean to you when I say that? What does it mean to reimagine work?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know. I say I'm constantly thinking about that and how the world will change and how it has changed already and how I don't know if it will ever go back to what it was. We have our office in New York City. We haven't got rid of it. We just actually got it. Three months before the pandemic on a three year lease, we have one or two people go into the office every day. We have a team of 26 in New York and people are scared. So I don't know. I'm not going to ever force them to go back in the office until there's a vaccine, until people feel safe. So we have been able to work remotely and it's been actually we've been able to to manage it.

I love working in the office. I love the creativity of the office. You're by the watercooler, you go to the kitchen and you just bump into somebody you might not ever really talk to, you know I'm the CEO so I'm dealing a lot with the executives. And you might not talk to every single person in the company at all times, but just being able to see people's face, have a conversation, you know, something sparks an idea and then it leads down the rabbit hole. Then you book a conference room and now you're speaking about something your never thought about speaking about for three hours. And that happens. And that stuff is really exciting. I love that. I love that creativity in that environment. And we're missing that. I've been trying to keep it as much as possible. It's not easy. And what I've been doing personally is I message different team members, unannounced, unscheduled, and just start talking to them. And the conversation could be a minute. It could be five minutes, could be half an hour. But try to get people to feel more connected, try to replicate that office environment and the office feel.

And I think a lot of people are going through this where they're not sure what's going to happen in the future. They may do partially back in the office, you know, maybe all remote. And I think we just have to be constantly adapting and looking at how the market reacts. That's really it. Just looking how our customers and our customers are office managers, HR managers, how are they doing business. And we have to make our service useful for them. Our whole business is trying to make their lives a lot easier. So right now it's a wide distribution platform. This is saving people a ton of time instead of having to ship products to their office or now to their home, packaged things up themselves and they go to the UPS store and ship it all over the place. We handle everything for them. Instead of having an office manager or somebody is launching a virtual event, have to gather everyone's address. Who's attending that event? We've built solutions that allow people to capture that information with t-shirt size the recipient is and try to humanize virtual events through a platform. But as the world changes and continues to shift, we'll constantly have to have our finger on the pulse and constantly keep developing and making the experience better for all of our customers.


Chris Byers: As you think about working at home more often, one of the things that means is that less and less people get to see what you're doing everyday. How does your personal life even play out at work? Tell us about a day in your life? What does that look like?


Jeremy Parker: So now I just actually had a baby, my first child in July, so it's a lot of stuff going on during this pandemic. I ended up ultimately moving with my wife and my child into my parents house, because New York City at the onset of the pandemic was very scary, it wasn't a place that we wanted to be. So we left for a couple of months, ultimately moved back to the city, had the baby. Now we're living back in Jersey in our own place, we're getting used to this new, this new normal. I'm waking up a lot earlier. I have the baby still in my room. I take about an hour to an hour and a half walk or run every single morning trying to clear my head, get into the office eight thirty nine o'clock and do all my calls, have my lead designers based in London. So I do an hour design call with them every morning. Our tech team is based in Ukraine. They're seven hours ahead. So I do an hour tech call with our CTO who's based in Ukraine. I do those two calls because for me that's my passion, it's what I'm most interested in is the product, the user experience, what features we need to build, how to solve problems, constantly talking to our customer success team and our team and trying to understand because they really have the best finger on the pulse at this point.

You know, four years ago, five years ago, when we started the business, I knew exactly what our customers wanted because I was the one talking to our customers on a daily basis. Now it's we have a team doing that. And it's very important that I'm always in the loop in understanding what features we don't have or what we can make better or what's not clear to trying to really understand that through our customer successes and our operations is to make the backend work simpler for them to process more. So we don't have to throw people at problems, which a lot of companies do, and we could streamline it and make it automated and simple. So keep the team super lean, but do five, 10 times the work that we're currently doing and that's our goal.

But then really taking that information from our team and learning from our team as much as we can and bringing and trying to manage the process with the user experience in design. And in the second half of the day, it's like every other CEO's job, managing issues, problem solving, talking to potential partners, thinking outside the box and trying to come up with long term solutions, fundraising, etc.. So it's busy, and it feels it's even gotten busier since we've been home because it feels like there is no break, really. So it's constant and it might not be healthy, but it's what needs to happen during this kind of changing time. I think for right now, especially for our business, we've been growing tremendously fast, you know, going from 350,000 a month in March to two million, approximately two million last month and the month before, 1.4 million, which is the first time we ever broke a million the previous month before that was 992,000. So really scaling up, really growing and having the exact same team that's doing it. So a lot of challenges come up with a lot of problems. And that's what we're excited about. We love when challenges happen because it means we're on the right path and now we're doing something is difficult and it means that we're doing something that it was difficult for other people. They're not doing it. We should be the ones doing it and really trying to streamline our entire experience.


Chris Byers: I think you're right that there's so much I think everybody is experiencing right now the odd feeling of like I'm at home, I'm out doing things less, but somehow I feel like I'm working more or I'm busier than ever. And so I do think those things like you suggested or are doing yourself, getting out and and running or walking or whatever for an hour like those are those are really good practices to help keep our minds kind of focused and keep us from being one hundred percent work all the time, because that can definitely be taxing. You know, we talk about creating a digitally agile workforce and you obviously use technology all day, every day to accomplish what you're doing. Tell us about that technology. What are you doing to kind of stay competitive, stay ahead of the competition?


Jeremy Parker: Yes. So everything on our site is pretty much fully custom. So we're constantly not really looking at our competitors. Honestly, I didn't look at any of our competitors until year two because I didn't want to be led in a certain way that maybe they were doing something. And I would probably have to believe that they're doing it because it's the right way to do it. So we took a really kind of a simple approach, like don't even look at our competitors for the first version of the platform. Let's just talk to our customers and design a platform that we would think makes the most sense really from the ground up. So that's what we did. And I think it's allowed us to think of the whole industry a little bit different than everyone else is thinking of it. So that's been really great.

But then you kind of start layering different features and different functionality. So we've added Intercom, which has been probably our best tool that we use to engage with our customers. All of our customers are inbound and a lot of our customers check out without speaking to anybody, which is awesome. And a lot of our customers need to ask questions, which is totally great. It's like, is this product going to come out in time? Is it going to look perfect? You know, they want to feel confident before they check out with a large order, especially if they're buying it on behalf of their company. A lot's on the line. So having Intercom has been an incredibly vital tool for us to really engage with our customers in real time, answer their questions and get them to feel confident with ordering.

Obviously all the backend features, backend platforms like HubSpot and Marketo really trying to automate the marketing because our team is very limited. How do you engage with your best customers? How do you convert them and give them a great experience, so trying to just use as many tools, that doesn't make sense for us to build and all the things that are proprietary to us that is unique to us, that we want to own everything. So really trying to focus and build that right platform from day one and constantly listen to our customers as much as possible and constantly keep building and building, building so we chip away at it all like a blocking and tackling set. You get to a point where things are going to be really challenging and then when it's really challenging, you make it better and then there could be other challenges. So it's never going to be an end. And as long as you keep trying to innovate and push forward and do things that other people are not doing or do things that really makes sense for your customers, it's never going to get easy. But that's what I love about it. That's why we're in this business, to challenge ourselves and to grow and to build something better than what's out there.


Chris Byers: I think you've got some advice in there that sounds really interesting. And it sounds like there's times where it's valuable to go explore, like what's someone else in the world doing and maybe you want to repeat that. So what's everybody else doing for marketing automation? Let me go get some HubSpot. But then there's times where it sounds like you're saying it's actually smarter to not observe what else is going on in the world, but maybe simply sit and experience your problem, try to understand your problem and solve it in the way that you think is right. Can you describe that a little bit more?


Jeremy Parker: That's 100 percent right. In the very beginning of the business, I was doing a little bit of research before I really stopped myself. And you start to look at what else is out there. And at some point I was designing like a rabbit hole. I was designing the wrong experience and I knew it was the wrong experience. I was basing it on other customers and trying to make their experience better. And I kept finding myself like, why do I even have to do that? Like, shouldn't you be thinking about the big picture of if I was a customer and I landed on a promotional product site, what would I want the experience to be? And I didn't really know the answer to that. So I figured let me just speak to as many customers as possible and don't have this preconceived idea of what the right idea is. I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, you always either think you need to have the right idea from day one, which is not true, or that you have to feel that ego that it has to be my idea, which is not true.

I think as an entrepreneur and starting a business, you have to be totally OK with other people's opinion. You might not like the opinions. You might not have to agree with opinions, but you should be super open to it and you can't be fearful of starting something even if you had no idea. And I always say to friends of mine who are nervous, I don't have the right idea or is it going to work or not. If you really, truly believe that you're going to ultimately get the right idea, then just go out there, because it's never going to be what you expected from day one. You know, in a lot of times, fear kills more dreams than failure ever could. A lot of people are just scared of doing something, scared of putting themselves out there, scared of internally their mind, the people thinking of them as a failure. But if you can remove that fear, anything is possible. You're unlimited, it's like a superpower. Like if you're OK failing and you're learning and, you know, ultimately you're going to fail a thousand times, but you believe in yourself and you believe that you make it better and eventually you will succeed. It's a superpower. You're unstoppable. So I like to think I try to get into that mentality always and totally be OK with it. And even a lot of employees who are this is the first time they've ever joined a startup. And it was hard to break them out of their their notion of, oh, something's going wrong, things are really bad. It's OK if things go wrong, as long as you solve it. No one expects you to be one hundred percent perfect from day one. We're a startup, we're growing, we're learning. But as long as we constantly do our best effort, chip away at the problems, keep building as more problems arise, figure out a solution and fix it. You know, we're five years old. We're still having tons of issues, but we have a lot less issues now than we did a year ago. And we have different issues now. And then five months from now, we'll have a lot less issues than we had now and there'll be other issues. So it's just constantly being OK with that failure, in that case being, you know, it's all for a greater purpose.


Chris Byers: You know, I think that's wonderful advice. It was actually Joel Sapolsky who really opened my eyes. I was six months into the job and I took it over from our founder and a good friend of mine. But I was trying to run the business for a long time thinking like, oh, what would he do? Because it's been successful so far because he's been here. And Joel talked about this idea where he had the exact same experience with stock exchange. And at some point he was like, oh, this has to be my vision. And what that means is if it's my vision that I may fall flat on my face tomorrow, but that's the only way I can know how to actually go forward, because I know I am motivated. I know why I want to solve the problem. And I can't tell you how many times I've had to come back to this idea that I can't worry about what other people's expectations are or what I think the next smarter CEO might do in this case. I've got to say, I'm going to own this problem. And if I fail tomorrow, well, at least I know why I failed and why I chose to to make the decisions. I love that thinking.


Jeremy Parker: You have to think that way. And it's really I think for me, it's I'm lucky. I feel very lucky. I got to a place where I'm totally OK with failure. And I think once you get to that mentality, then I'm OK with failure ultimately, but I'm OK failing on a daily basis because. I feel like when you're failing more, the more you fail, the further you're getting to ultimately get to the right place and with the right solution is so it's totally ok. It's just a part of the process. And as long as you know it's part of the process, then nothing could derail you.


Chris Byers: I think that's so applicable not just to leaders or the senior leader of an organization, but to leaders all across the organization. The moment you are willing to say, I'm going to do something and take enough risk and I'm OK failing, that's the moment you're really going to move forward. If you're always just trying to think, what are the rules, what are the best way to do this that I think somebody else wants me to do, it's always going to hold you back. So I think it's wonderful advice. As we kind of begin to wrap up the conversation, we've talked about this idea that really can be overwhelming in some ways. And I'm curious, where do you think people should start when they think about starting a business or how do they get just going and take those first steps?


Jeremy Parker: Find an industry that you're passionate about. You don't have to have the right solution, but find something that you're passionate about. Because what's going to happen is if you ever get hit in the face and at startups, you are going to get smacked in the face thousands of times on a daily basis. A lot of people I've seen start businesses. And then the first issue, they pack it up and they're over it. For a business to succeed, it's going to take many, many years. Whatever you're doing, you're going to be in it for many, many years until you get to that successful outcome that you'll ultimately want. Or it could be forever. Could be your whole life depends on really what you want to do with it. So I think really find the industry that you're super passionate about and then just be OK with not knowing what the right answer is. You know, be OK with learning, be open minded, start to talk to all customers. Your idea from day one might completely change on the second week or the third week, and it might pivot in the third year like things are constantly going to be evolving and changing and just be open minded to maybe not knowing what the right answer is. But as long as you feel like you're on the path or you're eager to find the right answer, you're going to find it. You're going to figure it out. You know, it's never over until it's over. It's unlimited what you could possibly do. So I would just say, put yourself out there. Don't be scared of failure. Try to learn as much as possible and constantly move and pivot as much as you can until you get to a place where it's right.


Chris Byers: Well, I've got a handful of kind of rapid fire questions to kind of end up on. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity in your business processes?


Jeremy Parker: Simplicity. I always think, I don't know if it's simplicity, but I always think of consistency. I think a lot of people in this world are not necessarily consistent. As long as you're consistent and you're working really hard and you're working towards a problem and trying to figure out a solution every single day. And you might have great days and you might have really bad days. But as long as you're consistent more days than you're not consistent, you'll ultimately get to the place where you want to be. So trying to simplify it, trying to be really focused on what the main goal is, you know, not get distracted by too many things, really try to say what's the ultimate goal? What's my North Star, as they say, and really trying to be laser focused on that and consistently laser focus on it until you get it to be really right.


Chris Byers: And tell us, what's your go to productivity tip is.


Jeremy Parker: For me, it's honestly running. I run in the morning, I have to clear my head. It allows me to be way more productive throughout the day. I think if I just started the day and went into the office, my head will be all over the place. So I think having a clear mind going into it, really think from like the bird's eye view every single day and kind of resetting yourself and try to understand what the main objectives are. And what I do is once I get into the office before I even open on my computer, before I talk to anybody, I write down all the ideas I've been thinking about on that run to make sure I don't forget it and try to organize my day in some ways, like what's the big picture ideas and what's kind of more of the granular things. And I think just having a to do list, having a clear head and a to do list, you could constantly feel like you're checking things off the box and you start getting those early wins. It could be something very simple as just like you have a call with the tech team, you do every day. But being able to check it off the list makes you feel like you're accomplishing something and you're getting to your next phase. So building on wins, I think is very important.


Chris Byers: All right. And how will you be reimagining your work moving forward?


Jeremy Parker: We have a really good game plan for the next six months. Now, obviously, the world could change dramatically again. So we will have to always keep our finger on the pulse. But for us, it's really trying to focus on the distribution. We've really streamlined the entire experience of buying swag. Now it's about making the entire experience of distributing swag automated and simple and streamlined. And that means once we have this swag distribution platform really to where it needs to be and now we're about eighty five percent of where the ultimate vision of it is, then how do you automate the distribution? So, you know, integrating into HubSpot in Marketo and Salesforce or Justworks or HR solutions and allowing people to kind of set it and forget it. Like a person's birthday, be able to automatically send them swag, a person's five year anniversary, send them swag. Somebody hasn't responded to your email, press a button in Salesforce and sends them swag to kind of close the deal. Somebody fills out a form or attends one of your events through Marketo or HubSpot, it automatically triggers a notification to send them something. Try to figure out a process for people to buy swag up front once, say, in the programs, decide how they want and who should be getting stuff based on triggers and then just kind of let the magic happen and allow it to be super automated. So that's ultimately where our goal is and we're hoping to get to that place by middle of next year.


Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up this episode featuring Jeremy Parker, there's a handful of things that I just heard that I thought were really powerful. One is it's really important for you to find a problem that you care about. If you can find that problem, get focused on it, be consistent, spend time with it, you're going to get somewhere and you're going to solve some cool problems in the world. Have a willingness to fail and willingness to kind of learn from that and move on and keep moving toward success, but have those daily failures so you can get to the long term success. Find ways to clear your mind, whether it's running or something else that helps you get away from the day to day so your thoughts can actually get organized and get kind of cleaned up and you can get focused on what's really important.

Thank you for joining us for this episode and season, we'll be back next year with new guests, new topics, and even more ways to reimagine work. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to get new episodes when they drop, or head to formstack.com/podcasts to catch up on any episodes you missed.

Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. And in this episode, we are talking with Jeremy Parker. He is the CEO and co-founder of Swag.com. It's an e-commerce platform for purchasing promotional materials.

Jeremy is passionate about creating a conscientious business, serving the best interest of his employees and customers. And in our conversation, we're going to dig into how he's built a responsible business model while experiencing exponential growth, particularly during a time where others in his industry are declining. How has he reimagined his work and Swag.com's ability to grow. Let's find out.

Jeremy, welcome to Ripple Effect.


Jeremy Parker: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.


Chris Byers: As we get started, I'd love to hear and love for you to share with our listeners your background. How did you get to Swag.com, what's some history there that got you to today?

Jeremy Parker: Yes, I started as a filmmaker. I went to Boston University. I was a documentary filmmaker. I really went to college specifically for marketing or so I thought. And when I went to BU and I was looking at the course curriculum, I looked at the film program and the marketing program, I realized that they were pretty much exactly the same thing except for film. I will learn how to make videos and tell stories through videos. And this is at the onset when YouTube is starting. And I figured that's the really the way to go. And during my time there, I created a feature length documentary called One Percent that ultimately ended up winning the audience award at the Vail Film Festival, a really big film festival. And I remember I was in Vail and after the awards ceremony and I go down to the celebrity or quote unquote celebrity brunch and half the room was celebrities and half the room were these these artists, struggling artists. And I realized I had to kind of do an internal gut check, do I want this to be my life? It was a very weird flight home, you know, going back to Boston, going back to to college where I was, had pretty much the highs of the high you could get to in this independent film world. But I really realized that this was not the path for me or wasn't what I truly loved and what I wanted to do.

So after college, I started my first company and I had no business experience whatsoever. So I thought, what business can I start that I could learn all the different aspects of business? So I thought starting a t-shirt company, I could learn how to build an e-commerce site and how to do the marketing and how to do production, manufacturing and all the different aspects of business. I did this for about two years; I launched it in 2007. So if you could remember 2007, this is when all the banks were going under. It was a really bad time, especially for really high end t-shirts. And we were selling two hundred t-shirts to different boutiques all around the world. And these boutiques just ended up closing a lot of them. And what we did was we started a marketing, kind of gimmicky now that I think about it, but at the time I tied the prices of our shirts to the price of the Dow Jones. So for every hundred points the Dow dropped, the customers would get a discount on the t-shirt price. And it's a little gimmicky, but it ended up getting picked up by Mark Cuban's blog, Blog Maverick, which got a lot of eyeballs and then ultimately got picked up by Ad Age, which ran the whole feature on the story and how we're able to pivot during this really difficult period of time. And it got on the radar of this guy, Eliot Peyser.

Eliot Peyser is the CEO of Weatherproof Garment Company. And I ended up meeting with Eliot and we became friends.  I would show up as office, you know, once a week for a period of time and just kind of spit ball ideas. He was a very creative guy and we were just throwing ideas against the wall. And they also owned another business called MV Sport. Now MV Sport is one of the largest players in the promotional product space. Now, I had no knowledge of this promotional product space. I had no clue what it was. I didn't know anything about it. This was around 2009 at the time. But being around Eliot and going to different events and trade shows with Eliot, I realized that it was kind of a missing piece in this industry. So I started a creative division under MV Sport really about twelve years ago, thirteen years ago at this point. And I learned a lot about the industry as a whole, who the buyer was, what the problems of the industry were. And then you fast forward 10 years. I've done a lot of different things from starting a company with my brother and Jesse Esler that ultimately ended up selling to a publicly traded company that was around social media influencers.

I found myself ultimately always constantly thinking about the swag space and how there hasn't really been a player that's reimagined it or innovated it at all. And the aha moment of starting Swag was the industries remain old, fragmented, and broken. But the buyer changed. And once I realized that the buyer is no longer this forty, fifty year old office manager and it's a millennial buyer. Well how do you build a platform really focus on today's buyer. So 2016, started Swag.com. We've grown five years in a row. We were just named the 218th fastest growing company on the Inc 500 in 2020. We have over five thousand customers from Facebook and Google and Amazon and Netflix and Spotify and TikTok to much smaller companies. And we're really trying to streamline the entire experience, making it really easy for customers to not only find what they're looking for, design it, and buy it in a matter of seconds, but also send it out and distribute it to all of their remote employees, all of their best customers, all of their leads. So a really robust swag management and distribution platform, all in one.


Chris Byers: Well, that is an amazing story and I love the gist. Well, the story of how you used the Dow Jones kind of going up and down to change pricing, like just love the unique kind of thinking there. And it's funny you made the point you didn't know how to start a business or you didn't know what starting a business was like. And yet I actually think that's probably what's giving you the freedom to build a great business is not having a bunch of rules that you were trying to follow, but rather, how do I just see a problem and go try to work against it and make make some impact? What do you think keeps you motivated to kind of continue to build businesses?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, I always think about this. A lot of people ask me that question. I'm constantly thinking about it. It's not to make money. I'm not really that kind of person who's like, I need to make more money, make it bigger and bigger. It's kind of an internal thing. You know, I see a problem and I want to fix it. I'm like, I'm a tinkerer, I'm more of a creative in that way of trying to see the big problem, how people are doing it and trying to do it in a different way. That, I think is the right way of making people's lives a lot easier. You know, swag, it seems like such a a non-sexy industry. No one really thinks to get into the promotional product space. Many people actually think of it as throwaway items. And I want to combat that because swag is such a powerful marketing tool if it's done right. And that's a big caveat. If it's done right, it needs to be high quality. People need to get it and actually want to keep it and they want to use it. And then it's really valuable. You know, you think of in general a lot of marketing initiatives. And you watch TV and you fast forward through commercials. Right. People are trained to avoid ads at all costs. You're browsing the internet and you put the ad blocker and and it blocks those ads, or you're looking through a magazine and you flip through the ads, you want to get to the content. People are programmatically set at this point to avoid ads at all costs. And with swag, what do you say when somebody gives you a really high quality piece of products or something you say thank you. It really does make an impact when you give them something that they're actually going to value.

So my entire business, it was from the very beginning, was really focused on, well, let's curate the best of what's out there. You know, I don't need to offer a thousand pens, a thousand notebooks. Let's curate. Let's make it really easy for customers to find what they're looking for and make sure that every single thing on our site is quality. But then who has time to look through these big catalogs and wasting paper and all these things that just doesn't make any sense. Let them streamline it. Let them find it. Upload their logo. Our system detects how many colors are in the logo. Click a button, checkout, click a button and send it to a thousand different addresses. I want it in the marketing closet or sales closet. A London office. New York office. You could break it down by department location, permission settings, approval flows, automate the entire experience and just free up your time. You shouldn't be wasting your time on swag. So we want to really streamline the entire experience for everybody we know.


Chris Byers: You're beginning to talk about something that I think is is really important. And it's really how does the user experience impact not only your ability as a business owner, founder, CEO, grow the business, but as a way to kind of give people an easy way to get the job done? I can't tell you how much I see where user experience just completely blocks kind of a company's ability to grow and kind of serve their customers because... It doesn't even have to be hard stuff. It can be things that are just like tedious and that extra few seconds. But every day, like, it'll tax you over time and eventually causes you to to not want to buy or not want to use the product. And there's almost probably a granular in the weeds thing that you're talking about that not everybody always realizes they need to do. Sometimes as a CEO, you kind of think, oh, I cast vision and all that, but at times you do need to kind of get into the weeds. How do you think about that?


Jeremy Parker: One hundred percent. I mean, when we started this business, I was not only CEO, I was head of product, I was head intern, I was head deliveryman. You have to do everything, especially at the very beginning. You have very limited resources. I'll tell you the story of when we started. So our first customer ever was Facebook, which sounds crazy to think that your first customer is such a big company, but that was by design. When we started the business, we realized we had this amazing Swag.com brand name, which took us about nine months to get. And we had no website and we frankly didn't know exactly the right experience to build. My experience in promotional products, fourteen years ago, things were very fragmented, stale, and broken, but it changed a little bit. And I wanted to do the first year just kind of a deep dive on who the customer really is and understand what product we should actually be building. So we were traveling salesman and I would knock on doors and would go to big offices and I would look at, reach out to all my LinkedIn friends and see where they worked and even if they didn't buy swag, but just try to get into the office. This is really what we did for Facebook. We got into the office through a friend and we walked up and down the hallways just meeting people and speaking to people until somebody want to buy something from us, and it didn't matter about how much money we were going to make, it was just trying to learn from the customer and get those row of logos, that social proof.

The second day I went to work and when they asked us who else we work with, I said Facebook. And they probably assume we work with thousands of other customers. But really, it was their second day of sales. And we work just with Facebook and we repeat that cycle to get that row of logos of blue chip companies. Really do the unscalable things. In the beginning, you have to do everything. It's unscalable. We had no platform, but then we learned as much as we could that first year, built this automated ecommerce experience and really grew it, you know, going from 350,000 the first year to 1.1 million through the ecommerce site, the second year to 3.1 million to 6.9 million, consistently growing. And what's interesting is this year is the first year we're going to break 10 million in sales in the pandemic, but the first year we ever hired a salesperson, all of our sales came completely inbound, no outbound whatsoever. And we had two customer service reps handling all those orders. So our entire vision from the very beginning was there's so much friction, there's so many roadblocks, so many hurdles that people have to do. Traditionally with selling of these promotional products, how can we streamline everything, whether it's our end of how to process orders to make our jobs a lot easier so we could scale infinitely amount like we could go from 500,000 dollars a month to three million dollars another month and have the same exact team. How many sales can we actually convert with like a two person team? And that's what we've been trying to do, keep it as super lean as possible, but really allow ourselves to grow. And what's exciting is, you know, in March when the pandemic hit, we were doing about 350,000 in sales. And now last month we did about 2 million in sales and we have pretty much the same exact team. So it just shows that we're able to grow now and scale and automate the experience of not only customers, but for our team to process more orders. But you have to start from from ground one. You're not going to have that process from the day one. So you have to learn as much as possible and you have to be OK doing those hard chores or the things that maybe doesn't sound fun or sexy or exciting. You have to, you know, roll up your sleeves.


Chris Byers: That is truly great to hear how you've thought about that. I'm curious, you've obviously at this point experienced in business a couple of major either recessions or like that, even whether it's a blip or something, recession or whatever, this year. How have you been able to kind of navigate through that? And how have you approached when you've seen those moments coming?


Jeremy Parker: Yeah, it's hard. It's not I'm not going to say it was easy or I had the answer. You know, when the pandemic hit, it really hurt our business. It hurt our whole industry. The whole promotional product industry is down upwards of 44% this year versus last year. And it makes sense on the surface.

You know, we had the HR manager for a company buying swag for internal use to give to onboarding of new hires. And no one's hiring right now or you have the marketing team buying for trade shows. There are no trade shows going on. Or you're the office manager buying for the swag office or company culture in the office and no one's in the office. So on the surface, when you're faced with that and you go from 200,000 dollars the first week of March and sales of 19,000 the second week, you really have to do an internal gut check and say, what do we have that could win in this space? Like how how can we adapt? And we've done a lot of things and we threw a lot of things at the wall and some things worked and some things really didn't work.

You know, we were the first ones that I know of to start really selling masks. And right when it came out selling blank masks, it was actually the only product we ever sold on our site that you didn't have to upload your logo on. Our site is all about customization, and we started offering just masks. A lot of our suppliers, you know, repurpose their facilities to make masks. And we felt like we have this huge database and infrastructure of suppliers that we could really be of help. So we launched this mask program for every 100 masks that are bought, We donate 10 to people in need, you know, front line workers, homeless shelters, different people who we can help because we knew a lot of people were very nervous and didn't have, you know, the supply chain that we had. And we donated over 4,000 masks during that period of time. And that honestly was great because we felt like we're giving back and we're helping humanity and just people as a whole. But also it actually kept the business afloat. Now, we were growing then, but it allowed us to not have to lay off a lot of our team members, you know, to keep the team as intact, which is very important for us as our team is our family. So it's really important that we did everything we possibly could to make it through it. And then ultimately we ended up allowing this to really grow in the last five months have been the best five months we've ever done as the swag distribution platform.

We really got a feeling as we were building this platform about two years ago where we saw the transition to work from home. Now, we never thought a pandemic with it. We never thought it would take off like this. And hopefully the world gets back on track sometime soon. But we were building a platform for this work from home where people may not, we felt like they may not have to go to a trade show or they didn't want to go to the office every day. How can we build a simple process for people to be able to distribute swag, send it to remote addresses? Whether they want to send it to one address at a time or thousands at a time, we should build the platform to allow them to do that. So we've been building this process for two years and when this pandemic hit, we really had to reposition it because it was structured and formatted for a marketing team and sales teams, and we really had to kind of redevelop how we sell the platform to engage with the office manager and how they engage the remote employees to keep the company culture thriving even when no one's in the office. So there's a lot of transition and a lot of moving parts, but ultimately it ends up working for us and it's a constant grind. You know, hopefully we'll be able to keep this momentum up and keep helping our customers and allowing them to do business in such a strange time for everyone.


Chris Byers: So one of the things you touched on a couple of times there was this idea of impact, whether that's impact of making sure our organization still has the cash to pay for people's salaries and keep them going, but also opportunities to kind of give back. How do you think about what impact needs to look like from a business and how you go about it?


Jeremy Parker: It's interesting. I mean, I think we just want to sleep well at night. You want to have a feeling when you're in the office that's not just business. You know, obviously the business has to succeed and we want it to succeed for everyone within the company because that will allow people to have a great job and have longevity in their career. But it also needs to feel right. So whenever we're approaching anything, we always think, is this the right thing to do or can we help in any way?

From the very beginning of our business, we launched a program called Swag Swap. It was literally at the top even before we had a website built, we had a landing page and we had this this little link in the bottom that said Swag Swap. So our program, basically the whole idea is you buy swag from other companies or you have old swag in your closet. If you donate that swag to people in need, we'll give you a discount on new swag through us. And we baked it into the core principles of our business of how to give back even the entire process of being super curated and only offering the best and highest quality products is because, frankly, it's upsetting to see tons of things being wasted from companies and then thrown in the trash. It doesn't do the company any good. It costs the company money. It tarnishes the brand. It's not great for the environment.

So we felt like we need to change how people think of swag. It needs to be all about high quality. It's the only way this is going to work. It's they only way it's sustainable. So we're really trying to focus on quality products from the get go. It's in our DNA. And then whenever something arises where there's a challenge, we're constantly thinking, well, can we add and try to help the world in any way, in a small way? No, we're not moving the needle in such a massive way. We're still a small startup. But anything you could possibly do that I think benefits you, whether it's your team members or your customers or your community as a whole, you should strive for.


Chris Byers: So some people who are listening are probably earlier on in their career or they're running their first business. How has that changed over time and running more than one business? How is your kind of philosophy, let's say, on having an impact and being conscientious about the world changed?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know if it has changed. I think the bigger our business gets, the bigger impact theoretically you could have. But how I grew up, I was always around charity. So following my parents and being brought to different places to see the meaning, like what's important in this world is to give back, that's a big portion. Obviously, we're not a charity, we're a business, we're a startup, so our intention is to make money. But I think you can give back, you can do good things even when you do have a business and even, you know, it's not like one or the other or corporations are bad or this, like you can have a successful business. And as a business person, it's important that we make money as the first thing that we focus on. But as you get bigger, you always have a way to make a bigger impact. And I think now as we're scaling, we're hopefully going to be able to continue that, hopefully be able to hire more people, hopefully make that experience really great for our team members and really take care of them and their families and really just have them in mind. I think just constantly having your team in mind, constantly having your customers in mind and your community in mind, I think makes a better business as well.


Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit more about those experiences, that kind of maybe as you were growing up, that have informed the way you do think about having an impact.


Jeremy Parker: When I was much younger, like 11 years old, I went with my family to Israel and we went to this orphanage in Netanya in Israel. And I saw all these kids. There's hundreds of kids who didn't have a great family life who are living in this orphanage. And I went to all the different rooms. I remember I was around their age at the time. Some were a little older, some a little younger. And we became friends. I was running around with them and playing soccer with them all day. And I went to the room just to see where they were sleeping and where they're living. And I noticed that they didn't have any toys. And for me, it's such a small thing. Right. You're a kid, and I realize none of these kids had toys in the room. So I brought up to my parents and I said, you know what would be really great? My bar mitzvah, you get a bar mitzvah when you're thirteen, I said, it would be really great if I can raise money for these children and just donate. I didn't know it would turn into, just maybe raise a little bit of money and donate and buy some toys for these kids and give it to the orphanage and they could give it to the kids on their birthday or for holidays, etc.. So I launched with a friend of mine, my backyard. Remember this very vividly. We launched a carnival and it was like a small carnival with the water balloon fights and stuff like that. And we raised about a thousand dollars from the community and we ended up buying toys and we sent it to Israel. And what they did was, which is amazing, they set up a room, a small closet, like a really small closet that was called the Jeremy Parker Toy Room, right, and they put the toys in there, and then when other donors and other people came to visit this facility, this orphanage, they saw that Jeremy Parker toy room and they wanted to donate. And now it's been, I'm 35 now, so what, 22 years since then. And I visited them several times. They have this toy room. It's always been stocked and you realize just a small idea and the impact it could have on people's lives. So from very early on I realized that and kind of taking it to business. Now, obviously, I'm not running a charity, but you do constantly, always think of you know, how can you help people? I think it's just the basic instinct of how to help people. And I think if you think that way, you're going to be the best CEO you possibly could be because you're going to put yourself in situations of the people you need who are doing this with you, your team members, thinking about what they're going through, this pandemic. They're all working remotely. They're all scared. You know, everyone is nervous and trying to do whatever you can to make people as a whole, whoever you work with, have the best possible experience.


Chris Byers: Yeah, I think often in leadership, even as leaders, we often look to other people for the answer or look to other people for like what's the government going to do? What's somebody else going to do? And I love this idea that you're talking about, which is really we're the ones who can make a difference. And we can and we can make decisions. We can spend time with people to really encourage them and help them work through all the challenges that are going on right now. And I think we sometimes as leaders also think that it's business first and such. And we're not out to your point, doing charity work, but having an impact on people's lives is vital and important. Well, when we kind of take a step back and think about this year, just think about crafting a great business. We've been talking about this idea of reimagining your world of work. So what does it mean to you when I say that? What does it mean to reimagine work?


Jeremy Parker: I don't know. I say I'm constantly thinking about that and how the world will change and how it has changed already and how I don't know if it will ever go back to what it was. We have our office in New York City. We haven't got rid of it. We just actually got it. Three months before the pandemic on a three year lease, we have one or two people go into the office every day. We have a team of 26 in New York and people are scared. So I don't know. I'm not going to ever force them to go back in the office until there's a vaccine, until people feel safe. So we have been able to work remotely and it's been actually we've been able to to manage it.

I love working in the office. I love the creativity of the office. You're by the watercooler, you go to the kitchen and you just bump into somebody you might not ever really talk to, you know I'm the CEO so I'm dealing a lot with the executives. And you might not talk to every single person in the company at all times, but just being able to see people's face, have a conversation, you know, something sparks an idea and then it leads down the rabbit hole. Then you book a conference room and now you're speaking about something your never thought about speaking about for three hours. And that happens. And that stuff is really exciting. I love that. I love that creativity in that environment. And we're missing that. I've been trying to keep it as much as possible. It's not easy. And what I've been doing personally is I message different team members, unannounced, unscheduled, and just start talking to them. And the conversation could be a minute. It could be five minutes, could be half an hour. But try to get people to feel more connected, try to replicate that office environment and the office feel.

And I think a lot of people are going through this where they're not sure what's going to happen in the future. They may do partially back in the office, you know, maybe all remote. And I think we just have to be constantly adapting and looking at how the market reacts. That's really it. Just looking how our customers and our customers are office managers, HR managers, how are they doing business. And we have to make our service useful for them. Our whole business is trying to make their lives a lot easier. So right now it's a wide distribution platform. This is saving people a ton of time instead of having to ship products to their office or now to their home, packaged things up themselves and they go to the UPS store and ship it all over the place. We handle everything for them. Instead of having an office manager or somebody is launching a virtual event, have to gather everyone's address. Who's attending that event? We've built solutions that allow people to capture that information with t-shirt size the recipient is and try to humanize virtual events through a platform. But as the world changes and continues to shift, we'll constantly have to have our finger on the pulse and constantly keep developing and making the experience better for all of our customers.


Chris Byers: As you think about working at home more often, one of the things that means is that less and less people get to see what you're doing everyday. How does your personal life even play out at work? Tell us about a day in your life? What does that look like?


Jeremy Parker: So now I just actually had a baby, my first child in July, so it's a lot of stuff going on during this pandemic. I ended up ultimately moving with my wife and my child into my parents house, because New York City at the onset of the pandemic was very scary, it wasn't a place that we wanted to be. So we left for a couple of months, ultimately moved back to the city, had the baby. Now we're living back in Jersey in our own place, we're getting used to this new, this new normal. I'm waking up a lot earlier. I have the baby still in my room. I take about an hour to an hour and a half walk or run every single morning trying to clear my head, get into the office eight thirty nine o'clock and do all my calls, have my lead designers based in London. So I do an hour design call with them every morning. Our tech team is based in Ukraine. They're seven hours ahead. So I do an hour tech call with our CTO who's based in Ukraine. I do those two calls because for me that's my passion, it's what I'm most interested in is the product, the user experience, what features we need to build, how to solve problems, constantly talking to our customer success team and our team and trying to understand because they really have the best finger on the pulse at this point.

You know, four years ago, five years ago, when we started the business, I knew exactly what our customers wanted because I was the one talking to our customers on a daily basis. Now it's we have a team doing that. And it's very important that I'm always in the loop in understanding what features we don't have or what we can make better or what's not clear to trying to really understand that through our customer successes and our operations is to make the backend work simpler for them to process more. So we don't have to throw people at problems, which a lot of companies do, and we could streamline it and make it automated and simple. So keep the team super lean, but do five, 10 times the work that we're currently doing and that's our goal.

But then really taking that information from our team and learning from our team as much as we can and bringing and trying to manage the process with the user experience in design. And in the second half of the day, it's like every other CEO's job, managing issues, problem solving, talking to potential partners, thinking outside the box and trying to come up with long term solutions, fundraising, etc.. So it's busy, and it feels it's even gotten busier since we've been home because it feels like there is no break, really. So it's constant and it might not be healthy, but it's what needs to happen during this kind of changing time. I think for right now, especially for our business, we've been growing tremendously fast, you know, going from 350,000 a month in March to two million, approximately two million last month and the month before, 1.4 million, which is the first time we ever broke a million the previous month before that was 992,000. So really scaling up, really growing and having the exact same team that's doing it. So a lot of challenges come up with a lot of problems. And that's what we're excited about. We love when challenges happen because it means we're on the right path and now we're doing something is difficult and it means that we're doing something that it was difficult for other people. They're not doing it. We should be the ones doing it and really trying to streamline our entire experience.


Chris Byers: I think you're right that there's so much I think everybody is experiencing right now the odd feeling of like I'm at home, I'm out doing things less, but somehow I feel like I'm working more or I'm busier than ever. And so I do think those things like you suggested or are doing yourself, getting out and and running or walking or whatever for an hour like those are those are really good practices to help keep our minds kind of focused and keep us from being one hundred percent work all the time, because that can definitely be taxing. You know, we talk about creating a digitally agile workforce and you obviously use technology all day, every day to accomplish what you're doing. Tell us about that technology. What are you doing to kind of stay competitive, stay ahead of the competition?


Jeremy Parker: Yes. So everything on our site is pretty much fully custom. So we're constantly not really looking at our competitors. Honestly, I didn't look at any of our competitors until year two because I didn't want to be led in a certain way that maybe they were doing something. And I would probably have to believe that they're doing it because it's the right way to do it. So we took a really kind of a simple approach, like don't even look at our competitors for the first version of the platform. Let's just talk to our customers and design a platform that we would think makes the most sense really from the ground up. So that's what we did. And I think it's allowed us to think of the whole industry a little bit different than everyone else is thinking of it. So that's been really great.

But then you kind of start layering different features and different functionality. So we've added Intercom, which has been probably our best tool that we use to engage with our customers. All of our customers are inbound and a lot of our customers check out without speaking to anybody, which is awesome. And a lot of our customers need to ask questions, which is totally great. It's like, is this product going to come out in time? Is it going to look perfect? You know, they want to feel confident before they check out with a large order, especially if they're buying it on behalf of their company. A lot's on the line. So having Intercom has been an incredibly vital tool for us to really engage with our customers in real time, answer their questions and get them to feel confident with ordering.

Obviously all the backend features, backend platforms like HubSpot and Marketo really trying to automate the marketing because our team is very limited. How do you engage with your best customers? How do you convert them and give them a great experience, so trying to just use as many tools, that doesn't make sense for us to build and all the things that are proprietary to us that is unique to us, that we want to own everything. So really trying to focus and build that right platform from day one and constantly listen to our customers as much as possible and constantly keep building and building, building so we chip away at it all like a blocking and tackling set. You get to a point where things are going to be really challenging and then when it's really challenging, you make it better and then there could be other challenges. So it's never going to be an end. And as long as you keep trying to innovate and push forward and do things that other people are not doing or do things that really makes sense for your customers, it's never going to get easy. But that's what I love about it. That's why we're in this business, to challenge ourselves and to grow and to build something better than what's out there.


Chris Byers: I think you've got some advice in there that sounds really interesting. And it sounds like there's times where it's valuable to go explore, like what's someone else in the world doing and maybe you want to repeat that. So what's everybody else doing for marketing automation? Let me go get some HubSpot. But then there's times where it sounds like you're saying it's actually smarter to not observe what else is going on in the world, but maybe simply sit and experience your problem, try to understand your problem and solve it in the way that you think is right. Can you describe that a little bit more?


Jeremy Parker: That's 100 percent right. In the very beginning of the business, I was doing a little bit of research before I really stopped myself. And you start to look at what else is out there. And at some point I was designing like a rabbit hole. I was designing the wrong experience and I knew it was the wrong experience. I was basing it on other customers and trying to make their experience better. And I kept finding myself like, why do I even have to do that? Like, shouldn't you be thinking about the big picture of if I was a customer and I landed on a promotional product site, what would I want the experience to be? And I didn't really know the answer to that. So I figured let me just speak to as many customers as possible and don't have this preconceived idea of what the right idea is. I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, you always either think you need to have the right idea from day one, which is not true, or that you have to feel that ego that it has to be my idea, which is not true.

I think as an entrepreneur and starting a business, you have to be totally OK with other people's opinion. You might not like the opinions. You might not have to agree with opinions, but you should be super open to it and you can't be fearful of starting something even if you had no idea. And I always say to friends of mine who are nervous, I don't have the right idea or is it going to work or not. If you really, truly believe that you're going to ultimately get the right idea, then just go out there, because it's never going to be what you expected from day one. You know, in a lot of times, fear kills more dreams than failure ever could. A lot of people are just scared of doing something, scared of putting themselves out there, scared of internally their mind, the people thinking of them as a failure. But if you can remove that fear, anything is possible. You're unlimited, it's like a superpower. Like if you're OK failing and you're learning and, you know, ultimately you're going to fail a thousand times, but you believe in yourself and you believe that you make it better and eventually you will succeed. It's a superpower. You're unstoppable. So I like to think I try to get into that mentality always and totally be OK with it. And even a lot of employees who are this is the first time they've ever joined a startup. And it was hard to break them out of their their notion of, oh, something's going wrong, things are really bad. It's OK if things go wrong, as long as you solve it. No one expects you to be one hundred percent perfect from day one. We're a startup, we're growing, we're learning. But as long as we constantly do our best effort, chip away at the problems, keep building as more problems arise, figure out a solution and fix it. You know, we're five years old. We're still having tons of issues, but we have a lot less issues now than we did a year ago. And we have different issues now. And then five months from now, we'll have a lot less issues than we had now and there'll be other issues. So it's just constantly being OK with that failure, in that case being, you know, it's all for a greater purpose.


Chris Byers: You know, I think that's wonderful advice. It was actually Joel Sapolsky who really opened my eyes. I was six months into the job and I took it over from our founder and a good friend of mine. But I was trying to run the business for a long time thinking like, oh, what would he do? Because it's been successful so far because he's been here. And Joel talked about this idea where he had the exact same experience with stock exchange. And at some point he was like, oh, this has to be my vision. And what that means is if it's my vision that I may fall flat on my face tomorrow, but that's the only way I can know how to actually go forward, because I know I am motivated. I know why I want to solve the problem. And I can't tell you how many times I've had to come back to this idea that I can't worry about what other people's expectations are or what I think the next smarter CEO might do in this case. I've got to say, I'm going to own this problem. And if I fail tomorrow, well, at least I know why I failed and why I chose to to make the decisions. I love that thinking.


Jeremy Parker: You have to think that way. And it's really I think for me, it's I'm lucky. I feel very lucky. I got to a place where I'm totally OK with failure. And I think once you get to that mentality, then I'm OK with failure ultimately, but I'm OK failing on a daily basis because. I feel like when you're failing more, the more you fail, the further you're getting to ultimately get to the right place and with the right solution is so it's totally ok. It's just a part of the process. And as long as you know it's part of the process, then nothing could derail you.


Chris Byers: I think that's so applicable not just to leaders or the senior leader of an organization, but to leaders all across the organization. The moment you are willing to say, I'm going to do something and take enough risk and I'm OK failing, that's the moment you're really going to move forward. If you're always just trying to think, what are the rules, what are the best way to do this that I think somebody else wants me to do, it's always going to hold you back. So I think it's wonderful advice. As we kind of begin to wrap up the conversation, we've talked about this idea that really can be overwhelming in some ways. And I'm curious, where do you think people should start when they think about starting a business or how do they get just going and take those first steps?


Jeremy Parker: Find an industry that you're passionate about. You don't have to have the right solution, but find something that you're passionate about. Because what's going to happen is if you ever get hit in the face and at startups, you are going to get smacked in the face thousands of times on a daily basis. A lot of people I've seen start businesses. And then the first issue, they pack it up and they're over it. For a business to succeed, it's going to take many, many years. Whatever you're doing, you're going to be in it for many, many years until you get to that successful outcome that you'll ultimately want. Or it could be forever. Could be your whole life depends on really what you want to do with it. So I think really find the industry that you're super passionate about and then just be OK with not knowing what the right answer is. You know, be OK with learning, be open minded, start to talk to all customers. Your idea from day one might completely change on the second week or the third week, and it might pivot in the third year like things are constantly going to be evolving and changing and just be open minded to maybe not knowing what the right answer is. But as long as you feel like you're on the path or you're eager to find the right answer, you're going to find it. You're going to figure it out. You know, it's never over until it's over. It's unlimited what you could possibly do. So I would just say, put yourself out there. Don't be scared of failure. Try to learn as much as possible and constantly move and pivot as much as you can until you get to a place where it's right.


Chris Byers: Well, I've got a handful of kind of rapid fire questions to kind of end up on. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity in your business processes?


Jeremy Parker: Simplicity. I always think, I don't know if it's simplicity, but I always think of consistency. I think a lot of people in this world are not necessarily consistent. As long as you're consistent and you're working really hard and you're working towards a problem and trying to figure out a solution every single day. And you might have great days and you might have really bad days. But as long as you're consistent more days than you're not consistent, you'll ultimately get to the place where you want to be. So trying to simplify it, trying to be really focused on what the main goal is, you know, not get distracted by too many things, really try to say what's the ultimate goal? What's my North Star, as they say, and really trying to be laser focused on that and consistently laser focus on it until you get it to be really right.


Chris Byers: And tell us, what's your go to productivity tip is.


Jeremy Parker: For me, it's honestly running. I run in the morning, I have to clear my head. It allows me to be way more productive throughout the day. I think if I just started the day and went into the office, my head will be all over the place. So I think having a clear mind going into it, really think from like the bird's eye view every single day and kind of resetting yourself and try to understand what the main objectives are. And what I do is once I get into the office before I even open on my computer, before I talk to anybody, I write down all the ideas I've been thinking about on that run to make sure I don't forget it and try to organize my day in some ways, like what's the big picture ideas and what's kind of more of the granular things. And I think just having a to do list, having a clear head and a to do list, you could constantly feel like you're checking things off the box and you start getting those early wins. It could be something very simple as just like you have a call with the tech team, you do every day. But being able to check it off the list makes you feel like you're accomplishing something and you're getting to your next phase. So building on wins, I think is very important.


Chris Byers: All right. And how will you be reimagining your work moving forward?


Jeremy Parker: We have a really good game plan for the next six months. Now, obviously, the world could change dramatically again. So we will have to always keep our finger on the pulse. But for us, it's really trying to focus on the distribution. We've really streamlined the entire experience of buying swag. Now it's about making the entire experience of distributing swag automated and simple and streamlined. And that means once we have this swag distribution platform really to where it needs to be and now we're about eighty five percent of where the ultimate vision of it is, then how do you automate the distribution? So, you know, integrating into HubSpot in Marketo and Salesforce or Justworks or HR solutions and allowing people to kind of set it and forget it. Like a person's birthday, be able to automatically send them swag, a person's five year anniversary, send them swag. Somebody hasn't responded to your email, press a button in Salesforce and sends them swag to kind of close the deal. Somebody fills out a form or attends one of your events through Marketo or HubSpot, it automatically triggers a notification to send them something. Try to figure out a process for people to buy swag up front once, say, in the programs, decide how they want and who should be getting stuff based on triggers and then just kind of let the magic happen and allow it to be super automated. So that's ultimately where our goal is and we're hoping to get to that place by middle of next year.


Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up this episode featuring Jeremy Parker, there's a handful of things that I just heard that I thought were really powerful. One is it's really important for you to find a problem that you care about. If you can find that problem, get focused on it, be consistent, spend time with it, you're going to get somewhere and you're going to solve some cool problems in the world. Have a willingness to fail and willingness to kind of learn from that and move on and keep moving toward success, but have those daily failures so you can get to the long term success. Find ways to clear your mind, whether it's running or something else that helps you get away from the day to day so your thoughts can actually get organized and get kind of cleaned up and you can get focused on what's really important.

Thank you for joining us for this episode and season, we'll be back next year with new guests, new topics, and even more ways to reimagine work. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to get new episodes when they drop, or head to formstack.com/podcasts to catch up on any episodes you missed.

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CEO of
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Chris is on a mission to turn people into great leaders. He's passionate about helping problem solvers see more value in the work they do every day.