Episode 153

Process Automation & Using Gifting for Growth with Brennan Agranoff

Brennan Agranoff - Hoopswagg & PetParty
March 3, 2021
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Brennan Agranoff was building spreadsheets at age 13.  He learned a little HTML in High School.   Growing up playing club basketball in Oregon with Nike HQ in his backyard, Brennan saw the appeal of custom socks as a young teen.  So he launched his first eComm brand called HoopSwag at age 13.  Brennan is a master of creative growth ideas.  He combines that with an intense focus on product and process development and automation.  We talked about both growth ideas and process automation at length in this episode.  

  • How creative gifting has opened up his Micro-micro influencer approach
  • How to go from VA to automation
  • Always asking “how do I remove myself from this?”
  • How Brennan shares a similar philosophy to Amazon to automate anything repeatable
  • The comparison of good code to good process development
  • The power of good mentors
  • Plus more

Mentioned in this episode:

Jim Collins

Dennis Uy

Ezra Firestone

Retool

“Always Day One” by Alex Kantrowitz

Lucidchart

Zapier

“Made to Stick” by Chip Heath

Brennan Agranoff - Founder and CEO at HoopSwagg and PetParty

Via LinkedIn

Via Facebook

Via Twitter

Via Instagram

Via YouTube


HoopSwagg

PetParty

Episode Transcript:

Brett:

Well, hello and welcome to another edition of the eCommerce Evolution Podcast. I'm your host, Brett Curry, CEO of OMG Commerce. Today you are going to hear a merchant story. This is a how-i-did-it story, a very unique approach. Actually, this guy has two successful e-commerce sites. We're going to dive into a little bit, and specifically we're going to be talking about process development, automation, creating even software, working with VAs, everything around creating these repeatable processes and tasks, which really will be a game changer to any and all of us. I'm excited to dive into this.

Brett:

Hey, Brett Curry here. I've got an important question for you. Where will your next big idea come from? Where will your next big breakthrough come from? Or where will your next little tweak or little improvement come from? Have a suggestion. Check out our guides and resources at omgcommerce.com. Are you looking to enhance your YouTube ads game? We have two of the best YouTube ad resources that are completely free, our YouTube ad examples and templates guide and our guide to getting authentic video customer testimonials.

Brett:

But it doesn't stop there. We also have guides on how to maximize sponsored brand video on Amazon and Amazon DSP and Google shopping and a variety of other things. So get these free guides, give them to your team. Even share them with your agency. Just take advantage of these resources and up your game. Let OMG Commerce help.

Brett:

Now back to the show. With me today is the founder of HoopSwagg and PetParty, Mr. Brennan Agranoff. And so, with that, Brennan, what's up, man, and welcome to the show. Thanks for taking the time.

Brennan:

Yeah, thanks for having me on. I'm excited to dive into this stuff.

Brett:

Yeah. Love your sites. We'll talk about HoopSwagg first. I know that's not the primary business, but that was the original. I am a former basketball coach, just retired this past year. Coached at the high school varsity level, my son, and goes a few years before that. Now I'm helping in a few areas. I'm actually coaching my eight-year-old daughter's game tonight. It's going to be the first time coaching eight-year-old girls, which I'm really excited about.

Brett:

But anyway, what was the Genesis story? Well, first, what is HoopSwagg? How did you get into it? And then we'll talk about PetParty too because they are related.

Brennan:

Yeah. I started HoopSwagg back when I was 13, technically, on paper. But it basically revolved around the fact that I was playing in club basketball or whatever at my school. Back then, I don't know if you're familiar with the Nike elite socks have got the blocks in the back. Probably if you coach basketball, you know what those are. But they came out, and growing up in Portland, Oregon, I'm like five, 10 minutes from Nike headquarters here.

Brennan:

So a lot of kids I'd go to school with, their parents would work at Nike. And so they would always show up to school with the newest whatever. Now they started showing up with these socks. I did my fair share of research on random things at 13 and figured out these things were $14. And I was like, "This is weird. Why are they so expensive?" But being my 14-year-old self, I had to get the most colorful ones. I was like, "I need these in neon." But they only had them in like-

Brett:

Yeah. They've got to make a statement, man.

Brennan:

Exactly.

Brett:

Your Nikes need to make a statement. Your socks need to make a statement on the court.

Brennan:

Everything. You had to be as colorful as you can. I figured out the only way you can get these things was some Instagram shop that I had found back when Instagram was just starting. And so, I saved up all my money one summer, which was like $40 mowing the lawn, bought a pair of these socks for literally $40. And buying them at 14 was already ridiculous back in 2013, more so than it is now.

Brennan:

So I purchased a pair of these $40 socks. I started wearing them at basketball to school and all my friends were like, "Oh my gosh, these are super cool. Where'd you get those? Where can I get a pair?" Being my entrepreneurial self, I'd flip some stuff on eBay, figured out how that whole world works very minorly. But I was like, "All right, these don't cost $40 to make. There's just no shot." And so, I was like, "I'm going to figure out how to make these things."

Brennan:

So I started digging into blogs, Reddit, YouTube forums, whatever I could get ahold of. We'd talk to print shops and really anyone I could get ahold of on online, to do as much research into how do you actually get color onto a stock? After about six months of research, if you will, I finally figured out the process and the equipment that you would need. Got some samples made from a guy locally. I had already flipped some stuff on eBay, so I went ahead proved concept on eBay, if you will, by just selling them half printed at that point.

Brennan:

Then I went to my parents, were like, "This giant." I called a business plan, but it was really just a big Excel spreadsheet that was like, "All right, here's how much this stuff costs. Here's how much-

Brett:

But how old were you at this time? You're like 14, 15 at this time?

Brennan:

I was 13 at this point.

Brett:

So any kind of spreadsheet. At 13, if you're creating a spreadsheet, I'm definitely impressed. Yeah.

Brennan:

Yeah. It's funny. I grew up making spreadsheets. I would make spreadsheets and PowerPoints for fun when I was like eight, nine. I was a weird child.

Brett:

That is odd. I mean, at least now I would observe that and say, "This kid's going places. He's making spreadsheets as a young teen, preteen." That's awesome.

Brennan:

I'm so glad, in retrospect, doing that, because, I mean, I spend so much time in spreadsheets now with ads and whatnot. I'm like, "Wow, I'm glad I've been doing this for 10 years." So basically went to them and they were like, "All right." They watched my success over the past year, two years and whatnot. I got this loan for $3,000, essentially. Bought my minimum basic equipment I would need purchase to get into this and just started selling them on eBay.

Brennan:

Then once I sold probably 30, 40, 50 pairs on eBay, I was like, "All right, I'm going to make a website, whatever that meant." I had no idea how to do that at the time, but threw up a website. I mean, that was back in August 2013. I threw up my first website. Started selling stuff slowly on Instagram. From then to now, we still make socks, that it's just not printed on Nikes anymore. But the process of the whole thing has stayed relatively similar to that.

Brennan:

Basically, it gets more complex along the way, but it was a very slow growth. The first three years, I think we did like $200,000 in revenue total. Then the next year we got to like 800, and then the next year was a million, and it's slowly grown year over year, even up until this last point. It's just interesting to watch because it's so easy to look at it from this side now. We did like 2.5 million last year, and it's easy to look at that and be like, "Wow, when in reality, that was eight years in the process.

Brett:

Yeah. Yeah. One, just hats off to you for having the idea. I love the proof of concept process. I think there's something to be learned from that. Even an established business, trying something new, do a proof of concept. Jim Collins, one of my favorite business authors and thinkers talks about fire bullets and then cannonballs. So test a little idea, it works. Okay, now go big on that idea. And then that's exactly what you did.

Brett:

Now, HoopSwagg, and I don't want to talk about PetParty because that's the newer and sounds like the bigger venture. But hoopswagg.com, that's primarily aimed at printing socks for teams and sports fans and stuff. I see you have more than that on the site. But is that the main focus of that site, is still basketball and or sports and teams, sports teams?

Brennan:

Yeah. One thing, like I said, we started with that and we would just do these preset designs that I would come up with. And that's what it's been for six, seven years. But more so in the past 12, 18 months, we started shifting more towards, how can we service these teams better? As a varsity coach, I probably sent you a cold email, honestly, like four years ago. I emailed everyone in the US I could find, and we would do team stocks and fundraisers and whatnot, and looking at how we can service that area better. We still do D-to-C, but it's mostly pushing towards that.

Brett:

Got it. Yeah. One, the other team goes nuts. You want a hoodie, you want socks, you want all that. And parents go nuts too. I'm a coach and a parent, so I think I've got a good balance, but I still like to buy the swag, and yeah, what a cool market for you to be in. And then, talk about PetParty. Where did the idea for that come from and then what is PetParty?

Brennan:

Yeah. PetParty is long story short, we take people's dogs or faces or cats or animals of any sort and we have crop them out and put them on different products, mostly stocks. Now, the idea for that, I wish I could say was super original, but it really wasn't. Back in 2017, this company called PupSocks popped up. They basically spammed everyone on Facebook. During that Christmas, it was crazy. I've never seen so many ads from someone. And I was like, "What are they doing? They're just putting people's dogs on socks." I've been printing socks for-

Brett:

Yeah, process. I can do that.

Brennan:

Why not? Now, I hopped into that. Didn't really know what I was getting myself into, just because... I'm sure we'll get into the process of that stuff in a bit, but there's a lot more that goes into that. When someone's uploading a picture, you have to crop it. You have to make sure it looks okay and then put it on a background and then print it. And everything is like a one-off print. So it's a totally different...

Brennan:

We're still printing stuff, print on demand for HoopSwagg. But it's a totally different thing because now there's an entire artwork process behind it that has to take place in the background. But I hopped into that in 2018. It's a super seasonal business, honestly. We do most of our sales November and December. Socks are-

Brett:

Excellent.

Brennan:

... the number one gift item every year for like the last 40 years or something like that. And so-

Brett:

Which is so funny. But I know for me, I forget to ask for socks, I forget to go buy socks sometimes. So Christmas, the holidays, that's a good time to ask for socks.

Brennan:

They're perfect stocking stuffers.

Brett:

Exactly.

Brennan:

You can't hate on them. Funny socks. You can't go wrong.

Brett:

Yep. Funny socks is you're going to get a laugh with ..

Brennan:

Exactly.

Brett:

That's awesome. But looks like you've added some additional things. I'm looking at a face mask here with a cute golden retriever on and some snowflakes. I'm looking at like an oven mitten with cats on it. So some really cool stuff, ties.

Brennan:

Yeah. We've added a couple of products over the past, I'd say, probably six, nine months. But we did masks, obviously, because of the whole pandemic and whatnot.

Brett:

Sure.

Brennan:

And then the oven mitts, I launched back in 2019. Those have done surprisingly well. I never thought people would need that many oven mitts, but we move a lot of oven mitts.

Brett:

That is hilarious. Yeah, there was a period of time when it seemed like, "Okay, does it really make sense to get into masks? How long will that last?" But it probably makes sense. I know from personal experience, I like to have a variety of masks. I don't want to just wear the cheap surgical one, whatever. I like to have a comfy mask. So that's interesting for sure.

Brett:

I want to talk a little bit about your growth and some of the vehicles you used for growth, just because it's always interesting, audience always wants to know that, like how did you grow so much? And then, from there, then we'll pivot and start talking process, because I know that's one of your superpowers and what you're really good at. I think it's also a skill set that everybody needs and that not everybody is maybe as naturally good at that as you, maybe.

Brett:

For those that weren't creating spreadsheets as a preteen, processes don't come quite as easily. So we'll get to that in a minute. But first, what were some of your primary growth vehicles? Once you pivoted to your own site and stuff, were you using a lot of paid media? Were you trying to get organic growth going after SEO? What was the process of growth there?

Brennan:

It's really changed over the years. I mean, obviously, like stuff in the advertising and growth world changes so quickly. But back in 2013, I was doing really well sending free socks to these sneakerheads who had hundreds of pairs of shoes. At the time, they had like 200,000 followers on Instagram, and I'm this 13-year-old kid sending them free socks. But that was assessable then. When they would post it, it would go to all 200,000 people. And so, that would do really, really well.

Brett:

Then they would be like, "Hey, this is a cool kid doing his own thing. I'm going to wear these socks and promote it," and stuff.

Brennan:

It's funny. I don't even know if they knew I was a kid, honestly. I would text them. But it's just funny. You've got these dudes who are living in Miami or wherever, and they've got all these shoes and taking these fancy pictures with cars and I'm just this 13-year-old kid sending them socks. We did that a bunch, networked well. But, obviously, as Instagram changed and it became more saturated in the platform, that started to not work as well.

Brennan:

Then they wanted to get paid for it, and that evolves. And so, after that, the next thing we moved into, I tried SEO a bit. I've never personally had success for what I'm doing with SEO. Partly we have-

Brett:

It's your game now. That was actually the core of what OMG did back in the beginning, back in like 2010, well, till fairly recently. It still works. It's a very manual process and there's really no shortcuts. So you just have to build great content, naturally get backlinks. It's just a real process.

Brennan:

It's a long game, right?

Brett:

Long game for sure, yeah.

Brennan:

Yeah. I tried that a bit back... I mean, I was probably 14, 15. It's a long game. I wanted quick results. As a 15 year old, you don't know what you're doing. I was like, "We'll keep trying stuff." And so, after that, we started working with teams. That's when we first started working with teams, which for us works really well because I know that our product is really good, and once we get product in hand, I know people will continue to buy stuff. That's proven.

Brennan:

And so, we were like, "All right, what's the fastest way to do that, is sell discounted socks to teams because you can move a hundred, 200 at a time, get them in hands, and expose yourself essentially." We started moving towards that and launched some high school basketball programs where you would literally send basketball teams free socks and then they generally end up buying them for like their JV and freshmen teams. So we'd break even, but we'd get socks on hands.

Brennan:

And so, basically our entire model was... Again, HoopSwagg was still was very Christmas heavy. So the whole model was like, "How can we not lose money the rest of the year, because we know these people will come back and buy gifts during Christmas? We did that and we tried a little bit of paid with HoopSwagg. Honestly never had great success. The most success we've ever had there has been with the team sales and fundraising.

Brennan:

With fundraising, I mean, similar things, like instead of selling popcorn, kids selling socks with their school's logo. With PetParty though, that's where I really started to get into growth. I wouldn't say I was heavy into growth with HoopSwagg. The one other thing I forgot to mention was we actually, when I was back in 2017, we got a feature with CNN that ended up on the front page for like-

Brett:

Wow. Nice.

Brennan:

... three days. Centered more so around the fact that I ran the company, which was fine at the time. But the company, we'd done more revenue in three days than we did like two years from this article and all the other stuff. So it's just crazy how a little bit of luck like that plays into it. And all those people became customers that still order stuff to this day. So that helped massively as well, which I forgot to touch on. But-

Brett:

I think there are some principles there, though, Brennan, that are worth underscoring, is when you're doing a lot of things, when you're hustling, when you're producing a great product, you're getting the hands of people, you're trying different things, you're getting it out there, then you're going to get some lucky breaks. Some things are going to roll your way. It may not be a CNN article, it maybe something else. But you prepared yourself for that by working so hard, and then took advantage of it.

Brennan:

Yeah. No, I think that's actually a really important point. It's putting yourself in the right space for those things to hit lucky, because especially with e-comm, you see so many people now that I think don't put any effort into the product, which I think should be the core of the business, is if your product sucks, you can't pay to sell a crap product. So there's putting yourself in the right place, I think, and doing things the correct way.

Brennan:

That was the other really massive thing I never thought about. The whole reason, fun fact, this CNN article happened was I was doing a press release for the fact that I had acquired a company. They were one of my competitors. It had nothing to do with me. It was the fact that I acquired someone. The only reason I acquired them was because we had done things relatively ethically the whole way, in terms of our legal paperwork checked out. It's just funny how the chain of events of doing things correctly, again, can put you in that situation for that to happen.

Brett:

Yeah. It's a beautiful thing, and focusing on the longterm. But the interesting thing is in e-comm and a digital business, the long term could be four or five years, right?

Brennan:

Yeah.

Brett:

You build up something and have a great exit in a short period of time. But you have to have that long-term mentality, which is really cool. Then with PetParty, then did you invest in some paid traffic? Do you do some amount of Facebook ads, Instagram, and Google, anything like that?

Brennan:

Yeah. With PetParty, I dove into paid since that's how I initially actually got exposed to the other company that was doing them. I was like, "All right, if they're doing it, clearly something's working. I sort of knew how to do ads, not really, to be honest with you. But after a bunch of YouTube videos, of literally finding people on Facebook, just taking in as much information as I could. There's so much information, whether it's good or bad. You're going to have to filter through it.

Brennan:

Then honestly hopping into Facebook Ads Manager and just testing with stuff. I feel like that's the best way I've learned, is just testing. But we invested heavily into that. Again, it's very holiday centric. We spend, I'd say, 80% of our money, October, November, December, and the rest of the year it's retargeting stuff. But I finally got the hang of like, "How do you actually run... What is a funnel?" I didn't even know what that was.

Brennan:

How do you run a funnel of a prospecting ad, then retarget them? Why would you want to do that? Then on top of that, one thing that was pretty important to us back in 2018, but even more so now, is our email lists are what we live and die by at this point, especially with all the stuff that's happening with Facebook now. You never know when your platform's going to get taken away, essentially.

Brett:

I was 14, you know, tracking limitations.

Brennan:

Exactly.

Brett:

The next several months. I mean, this year 2021 could be very interesting from the perspective of the big ad platforms and how do you track and attribute-

Brennan:

It's going to change and people have to adapt, but at the end of the day, that's why I love email because you can come back to it and you own it. Same with text has done well, but-

Brett:

It's so interesting how many times people have been like, "Oh, email's going to die." The kids these days, they don't email. Well, of course, they don't have a reason to email yet, but there comes a time when everybody emails and it's just tried and true, and it just works and it's going to work for the foreseeable future. Yeah. Just a quick side note and then I want to get into this process development and building out systems and stuff, software VA's, all that.

Brett:

I think, actually, there could be a benefit. Now, first of all, I would like for tracking to stay consistent. I would like to be able to know what's going on in great detail with our marketing. As a consumer, I get the idea of more privacy. But the core of marketing is never going to change. Good message for a good product, to the right audience, at the right time, with a compelling offer, that's always going to work.

Brett:

We're going to have to get creative, maybe the way we track. We're going to have to get smarter in the way we target. But I think regardless of what happens with attribution or with tracking limitations and pixel limitations, good marketers are still going to be able to succeed.

Brennan:

Oh, 100%. Like you said, if the fundamentals stay in place, the other stuff will fall in place. Honestly, it could create for a much cleaner ad marketplace.

Brett:

It could. It could.

Brennan:

You could get rid of all the other drop shipping garbage and all of this stuff that is just not quality branded content stuff. I think it actually might be good for the platform.

Brett:

Totally agree. It could be very painful, but it could allow real businesses and great products to shine in the long term. So, yeah. Awesome. Well, let's talk about... You're master of creating processes and finding duplicatable tasks and processes and automating them, systematizing them, that type of thing. Was that something you did from the beginning or did it more come out of necessity where you were doing everything in the business and you realized, okay, there's only one of me and I can only do so much?

Brennan:

Yeah. When I first got to that point of, "There's one of me and I can only do so much," the answer was hire, and that's just I think a default that I had... I mean, I was 15 at the time and I was like, "I can't make stocks." It was as simple as I can't make the sock, ship the socks, and market the socks. I don't have time to do all. And so, I was like, "Okay, we have to hire."

Brennan:

And so, at that point, that was all I ever knew. I think as I got older and exposed to more things, and I've had a couple of mentors, honestly, that have been extremely helpful to that too, to expose me to the fact that process does exist, or what process development even is, that at first, it was the answer is hire. But now, when you run into the same issue, I approach it a lot differently, I think.

Brett:

Yeah, totally makes sense. Just a quick side note to this mentor concept, a lot of people think about that, talk about that. How did you find these mentors? Maybe it's a little easier when you're a kid and you can just ask somebody, "Hey, you want to be my mentor?" But how did that come about?

Brennan:

It's a very funny story, actually. The guy who I would say probably has been the biggest mentor over the past two, three years, his name's Dennis Yu. I don't know if you've...

Brett:

Yeah. I know who he is. I don't know him, but I know we've spoken at a lot of the same events. So I'm going to see his-

Brennan:

He's all over Facebook stuff. You've seen him somewhere. I was being a dumb 16-year-old and adding people on Facebook, just all the recommended people. I added him and he messaged me about something. And then I ended up talking to him about I don't even know what. I ended up going to one of his events a couple of months later in Phoenix. I just got along with him really well. That's where I picked up a lot of my process stuff from, honestly, is watching how he functions on the backend of everything.

Brennan:

But one thing I will say to that, that it's been super interesting, is there's always this concept of mentorship, which I hate that is perceived sometimes as one person is just teaching the other. I think it's a very much so two-way street, there's a lot of stuff he's picked up from me because of my age or what I'm exposed to. And I think having that perspective going into looking at, how can I develop other relationships with similar type people where it's a two-way street?

Brennan:

But for me, I can learn so much from someone that's been in the industry for 20 years, and they can learn a lot about what's happening right now behind the scenes they might not know about.

Brett:

Yeah. I love that. I think it's just, again, a reminder, go to events, connect with people online. You never know who's quasi famous that you may connect with and really hit it off with them. They really enjoyed chatting with you. And so, yeah, I think it's just a challenge, again, to be in the right places, to attend events and see what happens. Then I think another thing that I would stress is, if you are thinking about a mentor, also think about, how can you just consume someone's content?

Brett:

Like I would view Jim Collins as a mentor. I've never met Jim Collins. I'm not going to have any meetings with him, probably, unless pay a lot of money or whatever. But I consume his content obsessively. And so, he's a mentor. On the flip side, like Ezra Firestone, he's also a friend. But we met. I saw him after he spoke at one of his first events, the Traffic & Conversion Summit in San Francisco ages ago. Talked to him afterwards.

Brett:

He was launching a mastermind, I'm like, "Hey, I'm in." And that led to this friendship but also a partnership. And so, things like that super, super valuable. Go to the event, making the connection. You never know what's going to happen.

Brennan:

Yeah. And you could get left on the cold too. I've been at events you've talked too.

Brett:

It's ..

Brennan:

Yeah, yeah.

Brett:

Maybe that was the reason maybe you wouldn't have connected really well with that person. No harm done. Still try because for every few of those are going to crash and burn, you're gonna get a Dennis Yu where -

Brennan:

You'll hit one.

Brett:

Yep. Yep. Exactly. Let's talk then about, what did you start systematizing first? How did you approach that? Then I want to get into your approach and your process. But what did you automate first?

Brennan:

I think the first thing I started to automate was when I got into the pet socks, I was like, "All right. We need to..." Basically, for context, so someone uploads an image, we have to crop it and then place it on the selected background color that they want. It also has to be put on the right template for the right product, with an order number and all this other stuff. I was like, "All right, I clearly am not going to sit here and... I can't do this a hundred times a day. I would spend all day doing that and probably still wouldn't get them all done."

Brennan:

So I was like, "All right, I'm going to go get some VAs." So I go on Upwork at the time and was like, "All right, I don't know how to hire a VA." It was put a dumb ad out. This was the start of my learning process. But that's where I started, which was literally I gave them my Shopify login and was like, "Yo, go for it. Here's a quick little YouTube video I made on how to do it." There was a bunch of mistakes. It didn't go horribly wrong, but I'd say there was the 15, 20% error rate, which is pretty horrible.

Brett:

That's ..

Brennan:

That's horrible.

Brett:

That's not sustainable, for sure.

Brennan:

No, no. That's how it started though. It was I knew nothing better. And then slowly, just evolution wise, I moved from them going into my Shopify to a Google sheet, to now it's software that they never touch. And so, that's been a three-year process. But along with that, we've used similar process for like, all right, you start with a VA for... For example, they manage our social now. We do a bunch of outreach, like sending product to people.

Brennan:

Again, I don't have time to sit on my phone and message a thousand random dogs on Instagram and send them product. But creating process for the VAs to follow. But anyways, that's when I got into it, was probably with that stuff.

Brett:

You're targeting dogs on Instagram. That's a really funny concept. You're finding people that have created profiles for their dogs, and you're reaching out to them, sending them product. That's great.

Brennan:

It's a beautiful concept because they have like 20 followers. And so, when I reach out to them, they're like, "Oh my God. This account, they found me. They clearly love my dog." I'll send them free product.

Brett:

They feel like they've made it. They feel like everything they've done in getting their pet this own profile, they're totally validated now, right.

Brennan:

Exactly. You're validating them and then-

Brett:

And then they're getting free socks.

Brennan:

Yeah. You're sending them socks. And then, what's the best part though is they take all the time in the world to send you really good product photography. Then they want you to use it because it helps spread them too. It's a very interesting little hack, I would say, I found.

Brett:

Yeah. Interesting, going after profiles of dogs, which means going after the owner, but smaller.

Brennan:

Well, and people talk about micro-influencers, I'm like, "I don't even know what you want to call these because they have like 20 followers. It's not like, "Oh, they only have like a couple thousand." It's like they literally have 20 followers.

Brett:

But what's the cost of the VA reaching out, cost of the pair of socks. And then some of those people may go nuts and tell like all their friends and family and their 20 followers could totally be worth it.

Brennan:

Oh, exactly.

Brett:

Yeah. Super cool. So you automated that as well. Want to talk about more of the stuff you've automated. But going from VA to software, was this software you purchased or software you developed on your own?

Brennan:

Okay, so for background, I can get along a little bit development-wise here, but I am by no means a professional software developer. So I try -

Brett:

You started developing when you were like eight or something? Like you sort of -

Brennan:

High school, high school. Freshman year of high school, I picked up some HTML. But I literally started trying to build stuff in... I don't know if you're familiar with Retool? It's a dumbed down easy way for non-software people to build software. And so, I started trying to make stuff in there after a point where I was like, "All right, these VAs keep messing it up. I need to fix this."

Brennan:

The way to do this is you look at what are the errors they're making? A lot of them have to do with validation errors. I was like, "All right, that's something that I can write a couple of lines of code that validates it, and that would solve that problem." And so then I started looking at, okay, well, that's great that I understand the logic of what needs to happen, but how does that happen on a webpage? I don't know how to do that.

Brennan:

And so, I started looking at these in-term software products, which was a Retool type thing, which is building software. It's SaaS. Then after I got to a point, I was like, "All right, there's a lot more powerful things we could do." That's when I started to look at and move to our own development and building our own ecosystem to build on top of.

Brett:

Did you start bringing in developers at that point, contract developers, or still doing it a lot on your own?

Brennan:

I basically just was self-aware enough to know that if I developed it, it would be garbage in a year. I brought in a real... I've worked with one guy honestly for the past year and it's just been him and me going back and forth. He's very good, and our stuff is a lot slower, but it's written the right way and we're able to build on it easily. But it's definitely a slower process.

Brett:

Yeah. Yeah. So the idea of going from VA to software, I think that's obvious right now. I just finished a book not long ago, highly recommend it, called Always Day One by Alex... Hey, ought to look it up. Can't remember his last name. Anyway, he talks about how the tech giants plan to stay on top forever. And so, of course, talks a lot about Amazon, and the concept of Always Day One comes from Jeff Bezos, where he says, "In Amazon, it's always day one," meaning, "We're always going to think like a startup. We're never getting comfortable. We're always going to be innovating and breaking things and moving ahead."

Brett:

But the philosophy of Jeff Bezos is anything that's repeatable, anything that's even remotely repeatable, we're going to automate. We're going to find a way to automate it. With them, it's going to be based on machine learning and AI, ideally, so that you free people up to do the creative work, the inventing, to invent the next thing. But let's automate everything else.

Brett:

So I think there's a level of being obvious that, hey, going from paying people to do something to having software makes sense, frees you up. Was that the goal all along or when did you transition from, okay, we have VAs doing it. It's going to be better if it's just software?

Brennan:

One big thing we've learned is you can't just go to software. There has to be that middle step. I mean, I gradually went through it, but now when I approach things, I'm like, "Yeah, you can turn it directly into software." But I want VAs to go through it to a point. If you look at it, like you think of scale, we're just going to take arbitrary numbers here. Maybe you have your own personal thing. You're like, "Okay, zero to a hundred tasks, you're going to have a VA do it. A hundred to a thousand, you have some sort of software, someone else's. Then past a thousand, you develop your own."

Brennan:

One really important reason that I don't know that I realized at first was if you don't have a VA do it, like within that a hundred, you're going to have these different exceptions that come up and ways to deal with things. If you try to develop software from day one, it's not going to work because trying to develop it for this perfect use case never ends up working and you end up figuring out, oh, this could be more useful or this could be more useful.

Brennan:

It's such a crucial stage, I think, is first yourself going through it, being able to teach someone else to do it, and then seeing how they perform within it, I think is a super valuable stage.

Brett:

100% agree. If you don't see it and see where people get stuck or hung up or whatever, you're probably going to be trying to build software, automated system, that's not very well thought out.

Brennan:

Exactly.

Brett:

You refine the process and then build out the software. For us, we have something similar on the Amazon side of our business, Amazon ad management, where we considered buying software, partnering with one of the big Amazon ad software platforms. Really haven't found one that works the way we want it to work, or that optimizes the way we optimize. So for years we did everything manually, just downloading spreadsheets, crunching numbers, doing things.

Brett:

It's really time intensive and really difficult. Then we transitioned from that to bulk uploads, to then automating a lot of stuff around bulk uploads and just continue to automate more and more. Now we've got our own API project that's in the works, both on reporting and optimization, which is really exciting. But yeah, I think it's the same thing, we're like, "Yeah. If we use this software, we're missing out on three steps that we like for app management, that would be giving up." And so we couldn't go that route. So -

Brennan:

That's interesting too you've mentioned that. You start with downloads, to bulk uploads, to... Yeah, I forgot about all that stuff. There's a total evolution of that, automation-wise. There's half automation.

Brett:

Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. You have quasi automation, and sometimes that's what you need to begin with because you're like, "Well, I can still save 30% of my time or 20% of my time if I did this, but still maintains control. We're still getting the result we want to get. And then you go from there. Cool. So then, what else have you automated? And then I want to just peel back the curtain and see what is your philosophy for terms of automation or how do you tackle a project? Sharing any tips that we haven't already looked at.

Brennan:

Sure. Yeah. In terms of actually what stuff we're automating, a lot of that has to do with the cropping process now. Image comes in. For example, we used to send out a full PSD file to a VA that would crop it. Now they're just doing the image that is going to be put on not the full composite image, but literally just the cropped image, which now gives us the ability to build our own AI models around this because we have a before or after type thing.

Brennan:

So it gives us all this new flexibility, but... So image gets cropped. It has to go through an approval queue essentially saying, This is okay," or, "This isn't okay," which builds in a whole nother level of... We basically automatically remove VAs from our system if they're not meeting the standard because we have all those stats. After that, then it goes in. It renders somewhere on a server, turns it into a composite file, which then also is approved to make sure the image looks okay against the background and everything.

Brennan:

At that point, it's sent over to our printing computers, which are onsite here. We do all of the production. But there's that, and then there's also this piece of software we've built ties into anything with customer service because there's inquiries that come in regarding the orders themselves. How do we make edits? How are we sending contextual shipping emails? All sorts of stuff like that.

Brennan:

That's been our main piece of software that we've built on top of. But the really cool thing, and what I'm excited about, is we are at a point now, really in the past month or so, I would say, we have the tech to essentially be a Nike ID from a customization perspective, where we can generate stuff on the fly, like the names, numbers, and everything. Our manufacturing process falls in line with all of this, which is another really key piece to this.

Brennan:

That's a whole almost different type of process development, but how those two connect is a very interesting world as well. But anything from that, to like we've automated more of the social in terms of our Facebook ad reporting. We have some many API service stuff that we run our own... Similar to what you guys are doing. It sounds like you run your own reporting algorithms-

Brett:

Yep.

Brennan:

... if you will, on them, since it's how you do it and it's just automated decision making. That's all it is.

Brett:

Yeah. Awesome.

Brennan:

But in terms of philosophy too, which I know you mentioned, one, it's so simple to me because it... I mean, it's so complex, but at the same time, so simple. My answer to that is if you can make a flow chart, it should be software. The reality is most of our training and documentation that I do at first, I do in Lucidchart. I love Lucidchart to death. I spend half my time on this website. It's just the easiest way to make flow charts or whatever that I found. But I have-

Brett:

This is really interesting. So you use Lucidchart to map out, this is the flow of a particular process, and then that's stage one for you?

Brennan:

Yeah, it sounds really simple. I literally have a box. I set a box on the left or on the top and on the bottom and it's like, "Here's the start or the input, and here's the output." And there's going to be a bunch of boxes in between about how you get there and things that connect to it and whatnot. But that is generally how I'll start process development, in my brain at least. The other thing I think to mention this, that is not a quick process.

Brennan:

I'll go through these. I'll keep adding to them every day because you'll go to bed and think about something or you'll be exercising and think about something. When people say sleep on it, I sleep on it a lot in terms of really putting a lot of thought into how you get from point A to point B, because there's 10 different ways you can get from point A to point B, but understanding the order of operations and how do those affect external business things. Just being super conscious about that is generally how I come about general process.

Brett:

Yeah, and letting an idea marinate a little bit. And being conscious of something, but also letting the subconscious work a little bit and solve some of those problems, which is really fantastic. Really great. Lucidchart, I've heard a few people mention that. I have not actually played around with that. Going to have to do that. Going to have to check that out.

Brennan:

It's a stupid simple tool. It literally draws rectangles with arrows in between them. That's the core of what it does. It sounds dumb, but it's the most efficient tool I've found for it.

Brett:

Nice, nice. That's great. And so, then, what are your goals then? When you're trying to automate a process, is it primarily to free up time? Is it primarily to improve the product and the experience for the customer? Is it a combination? What goals do you have around creating processes that make sure you're focused in the right direction as you build them?

Brennan:

The biggest thing I look at for process, number one, like you mentioned, was customer experience. How can we make this better for them, is definitely one of the top priorities. But the other main thing too is how can I get people out, because people cost money. For example, our cropping, when we moved to our own software, we cut our costs by 80% because we control the whole process. It's like the software paid for itself in a couple of weeks in terms of cost savings, and that's ongoing and that doesn't go away.

Brennan:

And so, for us, it's like we're very cost heavy business because we're e-comm and cash is in and cash is out. And so, cash flow is super important to us. If we're able to leverage software that we build and are able to improve that, that is the biggest win we could possibly have. Then toss in the fact that at end of the day, it makes it a better experience for the customer. For us, that's an overall win.

Brett:

Yeah. Yeah. I do love, and I'm really glad you said that. I think starting with how to make the product better, how do we give people what they want, how do we make this a better product, better experience, start with that. Cost savings, obviously, that is a goal. When your cashflow is better, you're in a better cash position, you can do better things, right?

Brennan:

Yeah.

Brett:

You can develop the next product. You can invest in marketing. You can hire someone when that makes sense. Because there are some things that we still have to hire for that software can't do. But anything the software can do, let's let it do it so that you can really grow and advance. That's awesome. Any other tools you'd recommend? Any resources or any trainings you would recommend if someone's saying like, "Okay, my wheels are turning here on what I need to consider automating and processes I need to build." Any tools other than Lucidchart you'd recommend and or trainings and information someone should consume?

Brennan:

I mean, yeah. For process, especially, overall, but web stuff, I think one super interesting tool is Zapier. It's very simple but that's how my process started two years ago, is I was on there connecting different apps and building processes together. Yeah, it's changed and that's on-

Brett:

A lot of if this, then that type of-

Brennan:

Yeah, it's understanding basic logic. Like that's what a flow chart is too. But I will say, I think understanding... Like I said, I'm by no means like a good programmer, but I can read code and I can understand, for the most part. But I understand the fundamental functions of how code works. That has made it 10 times easier, looking back. When I go to develop process, I'm much better at it now because I know how a developer will look at it and be like, "All right, how can we attack this?"

Brennan:

Then also being able to be that bridge in between makes your development way cheaper because you're not trying to communicate with them. But in terms of tools-

Brett:

Just to clarify that, so you understanding code and playing the role of a developer a little bit, you think that's just trained your brain to think in terms of process, and to think in terms of sequence, and to think in terms of this idea of clean code, where it's not full of a lot of junk and clutter, but it's just clean it to the point, like it's trained your brain? Or you mean you're just better able to analyze code?

Brennan:

No, I mean, analyzing code is great, I guess. But yeah, no, to your first point, I think it's much more... Because that's how code works, right?

Brett:

Yeah.

Brennan:

There's no creative. It works or it doesn't. And so, understanding like if-then statements, what a loop is, why you would want to iterate through things. Even though it doesn't seem too applicable to process, then the code is process. And if it's good process, it will be turned into code. Being able to go backwards I think helps. Like I said, I'm not a great developer. I watched enough YouTube that I can get by, but it's not like I could go code anything on my own.

Brett:

Yeah. But that process really helps you. It's funny. I heard a teacher say something, and actually this was in the book called Made To Stick. But an algebra teacher talking about how algebra is like weightlifting for your brain. You may never use algebra again. But that process is going to help you with logical decision-making and probably will help every decision making process you make for the rest of your life.

Brett:

So it's like you don't lift weights just so you can lift more weights, unless you're a bodybuilder. But you lift weights so you can go tackle somebody, or so you can lift your grandkids or whatever, and algebra is the same way. So it seems like coding did that for you, which is really interesting.

Brennan:

It's 100%. I don't know what that is, but building the subconscious muscle, essentially.

Brett:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Brennan:

Also was a very, very large fan of math in school, which probably had something to do with that as well.

Brett:

Math is awesome. I try to tell my kids that all the time, they don't believe me. Still working on it. I've got to go back to that weight training example. I think that's a really good one. I haven't used that one in a while. It's really-

Brennan:

That was good.

Brett:

That's awesome. Man, it's been really fun. We're about out of time. Any other recommendations you would give to people on this idea of creating processes or anything you want to... We'll start with that. Any other recommendations?

Brennan:

I mean, honestly, it's not easy, I would say. And so, go try to create a process and follow it yourself and see what happens, because my guess is you can't even create a... If you're just starting, you probably can't create a process that even yourself can follow if you knew nothing. Give it to a family member or a friend and see if they could do it. It doesn't have to be on web or anything. Just a process to follow anything.

Brennan:

I think the most you can learn from this is trial and error. And then, honestly, go get lost in YouTube. There's a lot to be learned there, I think. Like I'll go watch how people, or like the process for how some logistical systems are built. It's not applicable to what you're doing. It's just understanding why other people think the way that they do.

Brett:

Yep. Yep. Yeah. I think that totally works because if you look at... I remember hearing the story of I believe it was Henry Ford, and this could have been one of those made up things, but it makes sense, where Henry Ford had the idea for the assembly line by watching the way a cow was butchered or something, where like, "Hey, this is the station where they cut the head off." Is really gross. Cut the head off. This is the stage where they do this .." He's like, "Hey, you could assemble a car that way," right?

Brennan:

Yeah.

Brett:

So totally unrelated industry, but that idea. Seeing that spurred the idea for the assembly line. So, cool. Any thoughts on what's next for PetParty or for HoopSwagg, and anything you wanna tease us with there?

Brennan:

Yeah. I mean, a lot of what we're working towards now is all of our stuff we've developed has been internal and now we're looking at, how can we start to integrate with other people? One of the biggest things that I found to work really well is this concept of gifting, for example. It's the most simple thing, but you send someone a pair of socks with their face on it and a note, and I guarantee you that person talks to you again. Like you can get ahold of them whenever.

Brett:

And they're going to show at least a few people those socks. Almost -

Brennan:

Oh, it's always posted on social. That's the funniest part. And so, we've looked at this, like it seems like a little bit of a hack, but just customized products because it shows that you care a bit and a bit of thought has gone into it. And where does that cross with relationships and helping to build those? And so, integrating with businesses as part of a sales process.

Brennan:

Then on the HoopSwagg side, more so like, how can we build our own Nike ID and these automated fundraising programs? So leveraging what we've already built to continue to build these cool products on top of it.

Brett:

Love it, man. Love it. That gift idea is so, so powerful. Taps into the idea of the law of reciprocity that Robert Cialdini talks about in Influence, his book called Influence. But it's also you can't just give a crappy gift. This is so unique and it totally aligns with your business model, and it's something that everybody's going to like. It's just a brilliant way to use that approach. So kudos to you on that.

Brett:

Awesome. If people are listening and geeking out and saying, "Okay, I want to follow what Brennan is doing, and I want to see what's going on with his websites and stuff," how can they learn more about your products? And then, are you active on the socials and can people connect with you there?

Brennan:

Yeah. The websites are hoopswagg.com and then petparty.co, not .com. Then on social, I respond to... I'm on all of them. Not active, but I DM a lot. I'm on Instagram @Brennan.Agranoff. I think my Twitter's Brennan Agranoff. There's not anybody else named me, so I'm pretty easy to find. Then also, if anyone ever just wants to run process stuff, I will talk process stuff all day. My email is brennanagranoff74@gmail.com.

Brett:

Sweet. All right, man. That is awesome. Thank you for that. Hopefully, people will take advantage of that and chat with you. Brennan, crushed it, man. This was a ton of fun. Thank you for coming on. Thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll link to everything in the show notes so people can check out your sites and the socials and whatnot. But thanks, man. This was fun.

Brennan:

Thanks for having me on. This was an awesome talk.

Brett:

Yeah, absolutely. As always, thank you for tuning in. We'd love to hear from you. What would you like to hear more of? Give us some guests suggestions. We'd love to learn more of what you want us to dive into. Also, if you've not done it already, we'd love that five star review on iTunes if you feel like the show is worthy. Helps other people discover the show when you do that. With that, until next time, thank you for listening.

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