$15K/Month – Building A Furniture Ecommerce Store in South Africa-Amy McKenzie and Kirsten Dodds of House of Kook

INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 54:59)


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Amy McKenzie and Kirsten Dodds, co-founders of House of Kook, an interior design studio and furniture e-commerce business based out of South Africa discuss the challenges they face in the South African market as a niche e-commerce furniture business. Despite difficulties in gaining customer buy-in, competition from both local and global retailers, as well as high shipping costs – Amy and Kirsten share their vision for future growth, including expanding their range and catering to a wider audience.

Episode Summary

Amy McKenzie and Kirsten Dodds are the co-founders of House of Kook, an interior design studio and furniture range. They discuss the challenges they face in the South African market as a niche furniture business. Despite difficulties in gaining customer buy-in and competition from both local and global retailers, Amy and Kirsten remain optimistic. They share their vision for future growth, including expanding their range and catering to a wider audience. The duo emphasizes the importance of collaborations, finding reliable suppliers, and building relationships to reach a broader market. They also discuss the challenges of the furniture industry, shipping costs, and customization requests. Amy and Kirsten utilize social media platforms like Pinterest and YouTube to grow their business and highlight the significance of a well-designed website and branding. They value open and transparent communication, balancing roles, and avoiding burnout. The speakers emphasize supporting each other and finding perspective during challenging times.

  • 00:00:00 In this section, the host introduces Amy McKenzie and Kristen Dodds, the co-founders of House of Kook, an interior design studio and furniture range. They discuss how they launched their e-commerce only business, but are open to the possibility of having their furniture showcased in physical stores in the future. Amy and Kristen both have experience in the industry and manage various aspects of the company together, drawing on each other’s strengths in interior design, marketing, finance, and problem-solving. They share how their partnership allows for a fluid and easy dynamic in running the business.
  • 00:05:00 In this section, the speaker discusses their transition from being interior designers to creating their own furniture products. They explain that as part of their design process, they have been involved in projects that require bespoke design, including joinery and shop fitting. They mention the importance of finding local manufacturers or suppliers to bring their designs to life. They also highlight the gap they saw in the market for locally manufactured, high-end furniture. The speaker acknowledges that initially, they planned to focus solely on furniture design and e-commerce but ended up taking on interior design projects as well. They admit that juggling both sides of the business has been challenging but express optimism about the growth of their e-commerce venture. They mention that while the interior design projects have been their main source of income, the e-commerce side is slowly gaining momentum.
  • 00:10:00 In this section, Amy and Kirsten discuss the challenges they face in the South African market with their niche furniture business. They mention that while word of mouth has helped create buzz, it has been difficult to gain the necessary buy-in from customers. With their higher price bracket and premium positioning, it takes longer for people to trust and build a relationship with the brand. However, they have found that undertaking interior projects has helped legitimize their brand and build awareness and trust. They acknowledge that in every business, it takes time to find the right product-market fit, and they emphasize the importance of positioning themselves correctly from the start. They also mention the competition from both local and global retailers and the challenges of importing products from China. Despite the challenges, they remain optimistic and determined to keep pushing forward.
  • 00:15:00 In this section, Amy and Kirsten discuss their vision for future growth, explaining that they aim to expand beyond their current range and cater to a wider audience with different collections, some of which may be more premium while others more cost-effective. They acknowledge that reaching this point will take time. They also share their startup experience, noting that both of them were between jobs when they started the company. Amy, who left the corporate world earlier, had a burning desire to run her own business, which only grew stronger with time. Kirsten also felt the urge to make brave decisions and decided to join Amy in starting the business. They invested a small amount of money to kickstart the venture and sought the help of a branding and marketing consultant to ensure their entrance into the market aligned with their vision.
  • 00:20:00 In this section, the designers discuss the investment they made in their initial design pack and website design, which amounted to around a hundred and twenty thousand Rands. They mention that all their products are locally sourced and made, emphasizing the quality over competing with cheaper imports from China. They explain the process of finding reliable suppliers and the importance of having good suppliers as a key factor in creating a successful business. The designers also talk about the challenges they faced in designing prototypes and bringing their product to market, expressing their desire to have a larger product range but being limited by time and resources. They discuss the possibility of collaborating with other designers and manufacturers to expand their offerings, particularly in the accessories and decor items category.
  • 00:25:00 In this section, Amy and Kirsten discuss the value of collaborations and building relationships in order to reach a wider market. They emphasize the importance of finding the right fit and ensuring the quality and reliability of their products. They also talk about the e-commerce landscape in South Africa, highlighting the growing trend and the impact of COVID-19 on people’s understanding and acceptance of online shopping. While there are no marketplaces as large as Amazon in South Africa, they mention platforms like Takealot that are relatively big. They mention the challenges of shipping heavy and bulky items and express their interest in leveraging aggregators to expand their reach in the furniture and home decor market.
  • 00:30:00 In this section, the speakers discuss the challenges faced in the furniture industry, particularly in e-commerce and direct-to-consumer sales. They mention that the weight of furniture poses a challenge, especially when it comes to returns. To manage shipping costs, they work with trusted carriers and consolidate shipments to lower expenses. They also maintain open communication with clients regarding shipping costs and offer reduced rates when possible. The speakers further discuss the customization aspect of their business, with interior design projects often requiring custom designs. While they try to accommodate customization requests, they have firm boundaries and cannot fulfill every request. When it comes to marketing, they mention that they engage in online marketing but do not provide details on the results.
  • 00:35:00 In this section, the speakers discuss their extensive use of social media, particularly Pinterest and YouTube, to grow their business. They find platforms like Instagram and Facebook to be oversaturated and difficult to stand out on due to constantly changing algorithms. They emphasize the importance of working with consultants for social media strategy. They also share how investing in a well-designed website and branding has been crucial in attracting clients and opportunities. Additionally, they mention that TikTok is popular in their country, while YouTube is not as powerful as a search engine platform as it is in the US. They attribute their media exposure to proactive efforts by their marketing team, who reached out to blogs and websites related to their niche to showcase their brand.
  • 00:40:00 In this section, the co-founders discuss their business team and future vision for the company. They mention that it’s just the two of them and they want to grow the business in a way that attracts clients aligned with their brand. They want the market to understand House of Kook and trust them to bring their vision to reality. They also mention that they want to keep the team small and agile, avoiding corporate or formatted environments. Despite living in separate cities, they find collaboration and decision-making easier, as they can divide tasks and focus on their strengths.
  • 00:45:00 In this section, Amy and Kirsten discuss the importance of balancing their roles and avoiding burnout in their business. They emphasize the need to switch roles and take breaks to maintain their creative energy and avoid getting stuck in a monotonous cycle. Despite the challenges of distance between them, they make it work by constantly communicating and utilizing technology. They also reflect on their biggest lesson learned, which is to expect failure and embrace it as an opportunity for growth and learning. They highlight the importance of resilience and perseverance in overcoming tough times. Additionally, they mention the significance of their close friendship, which allows them to be open and honest with each other.
  • 00:50:00 In this section, Amy and Kirsten discuss the importance of supporting each other and finding perspective during challenging times. They highlight how their open and transparent communication, along with their ability to find humor in difficult situations, has helped them get through fearful moments. They also mention the advantage of working with someone they trust and have a friendship with. In the rapid-fire segment, they recommend books for entrepreneurs, express excitement about generative AI, and mention Canva as a helpful productivity tool. They also mention a local skincare brand, Butte serums, as an inspiring business. Finally, they share that they inspire each other and provide advice to entrepreneurs about overcoming fear and avoiding perfectionism.

People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode

Book: Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg/The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendrix

What You’ll Learn

Interview with Amy Mckenzie Kirsten Dodds of House of Kook

[00:00:08] Introduction to Trep Talks and guests Amy McKenzie and Kristen Dodds
[00:01:00] House of Kook’s products and services in the market
[00:02:31] Roles of the co-founders in House of Kook
[00:04:00] Transition from interior designers to furniture creators
[00:05:19] Utilizing interior design projects to promote furniture sales
[00:06:43] The advantage of being both interior designers and furniture creators
[00:08:00] Challenges in juggling interior projects and e-commerce business
[00:09:25] Status of the e-commerce business and customer acquisition strategies
[00:10:44] Building buzz and trust in the South African market
[00:12:00] Long-term strategy: Custom high-end furniture or more mainstream designs?
[00:12:57] Positioning House of Kook’s furniture in the market
[00:14:24] Startup phase and initial investment in the business
[00:16:13] Amy’s desire to run her own business and the timing of starting House of Kook
[00:18:00] The process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the furniture
[00:20:50] Deciding to remain local and not import from China
[00:23:07] Exploring the possibility of collaborating with other designers and manufacturers
[00:25:23] The potential of future collaborations and partnerships
[00:26:25] Overview of e-commerce in South Africa
[00:27:00] Impact of COVID-19 on the e-commerce market in South Africa
[00:27:11] Introduction and Background
[00:27:36] Shipping and Lead Time Challenges
[00:28:00] Custom Made Products and Interior Projects
[00:28:37] Exploring Other Marketplaces and Shipping Hurdles
[00:29:11] Potential Growth in Furniture Aggregators
[00:30:00] Handling Shipping Costs and Customer Expectations
[00:30:49] Custom Designs and Challenges
[00:32:00] Online Marketing and Social Media Strategies
[00:34:00] Importance of Branding and Exposure in Media
[00:37:00] Focus on Pinterest and TikTok for Growth
[00:38:00] Success with Proactive Marketing Strategies
[00:40:00] Future Vision and Growth Plans
[00:00:43] Disagreements and Collaboration
[00:00:49] The Positive Impact of Working in Different Cities
[00:00:59] The Challenges of Working in Different Cities
[00:01:06] Importance of Communication and Technology
[00:01:14] Embracing Failure and Learning from Mistakes
[00:01:32] The Power of Resilience and Grit
[00:01:42] Being Best Friends and Business Partners
[00:01:54] Rapid Fire Segment

Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

Amy Mckenzie Kirsten Dodds of House of Kook

  1. Book recommendation that you would make to entrepreneurs or business professionals (Response: Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg/The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendrix)
  2. An innovative product or idea in the current e-commerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: ChatGPT)
  3. A business or productivity tool that you would recommend (Response: Canva)
  4. A peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: Amy McKenzie of House of Kook)
  5. Best business advice you ever received.
    (Response: Kirsten Dodds: Don’t let fear be the thing that stands in your way. You’ll regret it.
    Amy Mckenzie: perfectionism ain’t a good idea. Better done than perfect.)

Interview Transcript

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. Hey there, entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant and welcome to Trep Talks. This is the show where I interview successful e commerce entrepreneurs, business executives and thought leaders, and ask them questions about their business story and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses.

And today I’m really excited to welcome Mehdi Kajbaf to the show. Mehdi is the co founder of a business called Matboard and more. Metboard and more makes framing your art easier than you think. And today I’m going to ask Mehdi a few questions about his entrepreneurial journey and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to start and grow his business.

So Mehdi, thank you so much for joining me today at Treptalks. Really, really appreciate it.

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: Yeah, I appreciate the invite. And, uh, you know, I’m excited to be here. [00:01:00]

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So, you know, when I was looking at your website, I was thinking, you know, this is really such a great example of, uh, You know, niche business, you know, you hear quite frequently riches in the niches.

And that’s what I was thinking when I was looking at your business. So anybody who does not know what exactly a mat board is, is it really just a kind of a picture frame?

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: Yeah. I mean, that’s, I think like what people first come to mind, they think it’s a picture frame. It’s not the frame itself. The frame is what everyone knows.

That’s the wooden or the plastic or the metal on the outside. The Mat board is the inside border. So in between the frame and the photo, the Mat board is there. And it just adds. You know, more color, more flavor, and it makes the picture pop out.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So it’s basically kind of the, um, gives you some sort of a design to your picture?

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: Yeah, here, you know what, let me just, easiest ways with a photo, right? So this is, [00:02:00] you know, I was telling him, well, I don’t know if you can see the focus here. I’m a Leaf fan, so my wife actually made this for me. So it’s kind of hard, I guess it’s grainy, it’s only showing me, but that’s the frame. That’s the mat.

That’s the inside mat. And that’s the art. Hopefully that helps a little bit,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: but, but you’re selling the frame also, right? Or is it just the inside part that you,

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: we, we do the whole thing, um, the whole package, but we’d started with just mats and frames came much later. Okay.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So as I was saying, you know, this seems like a pretty niche business.

Can you share a little bit about the story, how you got the idea and what really motivated you to start a

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: business? So I can’t take credit for the initial seed idea because this came from my partner. So the business is three partners, myself, my brother, and my brother in law, my brother in law has been framing since he was, I think like six years old back in Iran.

You know, my kid used to work in his, uh, his parents frame [00:03:00] shop and he’s, he’s always been around matting and framing when he came to Canada, emigrated here, his first job was to open up a frame shop. Right. So he’s been in the industry forever and he noticed, you know, I give him credit for that, that he noticed this need for custom mats.

Right. And so that’s where the genesis of the idea started. And then my brother helped develop with him the website. And it was very, very different when we first started. And then I came in, you know, shortly after they got it going and I’ve been focused on the marketing and the business side of it. So, so where it all began was from his, you know, youth and his experience and his understanding of the industry, identifying, like you said, a very niche.

Kind of need. And, uh, it was really good to focus in directly on that custom matting part. Um, but I can remember the day that my brother sort of showed me the website and it was just like, it was a very, very simple wizard, but I [00:04:00] honestly like, and this is something that maybe other entrepreneurs might, you know, resonate with them.

I kind of saw my future in that moment. You know, even though it was just a very simple website and honestly, I knew very little about matting and framing. I was familiar with the industry because they’ve been working on stuff forever. But I saw that and I said, okay, there’s, there’s something here. This is actually, you know, my future, our future.

And uh, you know, from that day, like I just got into it a hundred percent. How long

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: ago was this?

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: That was in 2012. Um, just the fall of 2012. So

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: more than 10 years now. Wow. Okay. And, and I’m assuming that your brother realized, um, that people were asking for this mat or custom mats again and again. And so, uh, he realized that there’s a market for this and, you know, we should fill the gap,

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: uh, for that market.

Absolutely. Absolutely. And [00:05:00] it’s, uh, it’s actually something that in hindsight is like very obvious to me, right? Anytime you have a sort of strange piece of art or, uh, something that you want to frame, it’s just, it’s not a standard size. You know, it becomes very difficult. You think you’re gonna go to a frame shop, Michael’s, whatever, just comes to mind.

But it’s so expensive and such a pain in the butt. So that was the genesis of the idea. And you know, of course he, he kind of understood that better than anyone cuz he’d seen that come up again and again.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So this was, uh, kind of a progression of what he was already doing. So it just wasn’t really like, um, You know, I have a new idea and now I have to think about how to start a business.

So he already had a business going.

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: Not exactly. So yeah, he was in the framing industry, but he was mostly on the frame side. So framing is a much bigger business art frames than mats. You could say, I mean, there’s many other things to it too, but you know, selling frames, uh, so he was [00:06:00] working on many different projects, but it was mostly focused on frames and art.

The mat board is kind of like, uh, it’s overlooked. You don’t even know what it was, right? You’ve seen them a billion times every day. You probably walk around any, almost every frame has the mat. So he was in the industry of course, but the specific aspect of like custom matting. That was what was new and a little bit different.


Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And right now, can you share a little bit of more about your product? Like, are you really just selling the mat boards or are you selling other products? Is it really just like different?

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: So we started with the mat board, like I said, and at the beginning it was, you know, there was only like a few different types of mat boards and what differentiated them was the color and the size.

My first job when I got into the business was to find customers. Talk to customers, identify what their needs are. And so artists became a huge segment, but we ought to, I’ll be honest with you. We weren’t really [00:07:00] sure who was going to need these custom mats. When we first, first started, we had an idea that, you know, wholesalers, big businesses, they might want to come in and buy, you know, large chunks.

Um, We also knew people in their homes might, might have like some art that they need to frame. And we also knew artists would be like a big segment of it. So when I first started working, uh, with Matt Baltimore and kind of understanding where I could fit in, I targeted artists. So Twitter wasn’t what it is today.

Back then it was, uh, It’s a lot easier to kind of, you know, talk to people. People would respond back to DMS. And as long as it was, it was a nice place to be, uh, you know, same with Facebook and, you know, Instagram, Instagram, not so much back then, but, you know, I went in there and I found these people. And so they were like, well, Hey, when we buy the math, we also need, for example, a show bag and we need a backing board.

That’s called a show kit. We didn’t offer that initially. I said, okay, well, let’s get some backing easy to do. And then it was like, well, you know, obviously some people want frames. So we just had two frames, a black frame and a white frame. You know, [00:08:00] and when you get the frame, you got to get the plexiglass that goes, you know, like the replacement of the glass and you get the hangers and that’s pretty much actually all we have even today.

It’s mats, backing, plexiglass and frames, but we just added more styles, more colors. But if you think about what a, you know, what the product is. A mat board is a very customizable product. So, you know, it’s an eight by 10 mat, the same product as an 11 by 14 is a conservation that 16 by 20, the same as one that has, you know, maybe two openings or three openings and different core colors.

It’s very customizable. And I think that’s the, the beauty of what our website allows. You can pick and choose and get exactly what you want. Nobody else does that even today. Nobody

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: else does that. So basically someone who’s doing like, uh, um, you know, uh, any, any kind of project, um, and they have a frame and, you know, they realize we need this mat mat board.

So they would basically go on your [00:09:00] website, uh, and find a size that’s probably a little bit larger than the frame that they’re looking for. And then they would, uh, at home. Cut it down to custom to put it in inside the frame. Is that how it works?

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: Or, well, they don’t cut it down. We, we give them the exact size they need.

So there’s no cutting involved, but you’re right that some people have their own frames and that’s another unique thing. Let’s say you have, you know, one standard frame. Well, there’s lots of different art that could potentially go in there. But what makes that possible is the mat, right? Cause the mat fills in the gaps.

Yeah. A lot of people have their frames from. Anywhere, Walmart, Ikea, maybe they have like an old frame from their family, but the math is the part that they can’t find, right? You can’t just cause people can cut their own mats, but that’s it. process, right? You know, just very few people are, are going to engage in that.

So I always

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: thought that, you know, there are, these are like, uh, just kind of like a little bit [00:10:00] thicker piece of paper or canvas kind of a thing that in that in there, what, what exactly is this mat board? Like, is this some sort of a special

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: material or? It is a paper material, right? Um, and it is thicker.

There’s different, there’s so many different variations. Like the thickest ones we have are like an eighth of an inch, eight ply. If you go to like a really high end museum, you might see those, you know, the very, very thick type of mats, very bold. Um, but there’s most of them are like a sixteenth of an inch.

But, you know, much thinner and that’s the traditional style that you’d find, but yeah, it’s, it’s basically a paper material. Um, you know, there’s manufacturer Crescent essentially owns the whole industry and then there’s this varying qualities and that that’s the other part of it. So you can have these conservation ones that, you know, are resistant to the lights.

They stay true color forever. And then you have, you know, the cheaper ones and then we don’t sell anything that’s like on the lower end. That’s the one that you’ll find in like the Walmarts or whatever. The ones that come like in a frame [00:11:00] pre pre made you go buy a frame and there’s like a mat that’s already in there.

Those tend to be like really thin and those tend to be like pretty cheap. So we don’t do those, but yeah, it’s, it’s a paper product.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. So when you started the business, as you were saying, you know, uh, you had kind of a hunch that, you know, there was a market for it and, you know, you had some sort of, uh, you know, proto website, I guess, you know, the, the first version of the website and then you got involved, you know, you, you said that you saw the future, uh, with this, what, what happened next?

How did you go about? Uh, getting new customers like what was your attempt mostly, uh, to go after local businesses, you know, local, you know, art, uh, kind of dealers or your effort was really to find people online and bring people online

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: to your website. Yeah, it was definitely the second one. We were, we’re digitally focused company.

So to be honest, I didn’t know much about anything at that time about digital marketing. I just finished my [00:12:00] MBA. So I, you know, I had the idea about business and kind of knew that I wanted to get into entrepreneurship. I was doing, you know, different projects at the time. I was getting very into social media.

I had my own website that I was promoting. So social media at that time was where I started, you know. When on the Twitter and Facebook, et cetera, I remember, you know, communicating with these artists and basically they knew more than I did at that time about, you know, what the mats are and what they need and what they were looking for.

And I was giving discounts and just sort of sending them stuff as much as I could, just, just to giving them products, giving them away for free, just to get some feedback and to get some understanding. Um, so that was sort of like the first, first part and people gave positive feedback and people were excited about the idea of getting these custom mats.

They wasn’t really anywhere to get them like, you know, there wasn’t a lot of places to get them, especially online. Um, so that was kind of the beginning. And then the next level was the Google ads. And this is where I remember. Things changed [00:13:00] because, uh, my brother, you know, he is the one who’s a tech guy, right?

And he was like, well, we want to market this. And I know a guy and he’s going to charge us, you know, 2, 000 a month. And he’s going to do like Google ads for us. And I was like, well, hold on. I’ve never done this before, but you know, I’ll do it for free. I’ll figure it out. A thousand bucks is a lot for you guys, you know, just starting the business.

And that’s what I did. I just went and I read all the different Google stuff to, you know, I didn’t know anything at the time. I knew about analytics, but I didn’t know about the ads. Um, that’s kind of one of the things with entrepreneurship that I think, you know, I would just give like a little bit of advice to people.

Don’t be afraid about what you don’t know. Right. Don’t be, don’t, don’t necessarily, it may seem overwhelming, like Google ads for someone who’s never done it, especially back then. Nowadays, honestly, things are so much easier. There’s resources for anything that you want to find. There’s a million resources, right?

But, but, you know, it’s not, don’t be intimidated by the things you don’t know. That’s like the exciting part, [00:14:00] right. To learn and to challenge yourself. So I jumped right in and, you know, we got a sales like very early on, not good conversion rate, mind you, you know, we probably had to spend a hundred bucks to get one sale and we’re losing.

You know, almost all of our money on that one, but we got a sale and then we get another sale. And you know, at the beginning, what you’re paying for is not just the, the revenue and the purchases, but you’re getting traffic to the website. You’re seeing how people use the website. And that’s where I loved.

I can, I remember in that first year, first two years, I would say it was a constant stream of pay for traffic. Talk to customers, get feedback, check Google analytics, iterate, improve, iterate, improve. You want show kits, you want show bags, okay, you want this color, this wizard doesn’t work, redesign it, redesign it.

And that was it. And it was just constant, constant, little incremental improvements. And I think it took about two years where we then. [00:15:00] Basically in a, in a bit of a positive state, you know, and we were actually profitable profitable in the sense that we don’t really paying ourselves much, but you know, we were, we were moving in the right direction and you knew for sure this was going to work.

I felt like for sure it was going to work honestly, within like the first couple of months, because I, because I knew the potential, like we just, it was a very simple website. So if it’s, if it’s converting at this basic level, once we improve it for sure, it’s going to get much, much better. Right.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So at that time, you were, of course you started working with your brother, were you like doing this full time?

Like what was your compensations like? Were

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: you? Yeah. Well, I mean, first, first three months and our first three months I was just doing it. Because I don’t know, I just, I just like doing it. It was like, it was fun. It was like a project. And, but once they saw that, you know, it’s better to have someone in the family.

I’m not going to pay some marketing guy, 2000 bucks a month. It’s like, you [00:16:00] know, it’s just at that time, 2000 bucks a month was quite a bit. Right. But I remember they were just like, Hey, if you’re into it. Like come on board. And they were very generous and they brought me in as an equal partner. Um, and it’s, it’s the trifecta, right?

You know, the three of us, the business guy, the operational guy, the tech guy. So when they brought me in full time, um, that’s, that, that’s what I really, really took off. Yeah,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: in terms of so, so one thing that you know, you were saying before we started the call is even though you are located in Canada, this business, you’re saying it’s us based.

I’m assuming the reason for that is us is a much bigger market, much more demand. And so. Well,

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: that one is a, it’s a love story, I guess you could say, because my, my brother in law, well, well, he married my sister. They went there because business was better, but he wasn’t doing like Matboard and more. He was just doing his own framing stuff.

But because he went there to the States, [00:17:00] um, you know, my brother was visiting and my brother had got a co op job. He went, he went to university of Waterloo. So did I. So his co op job was in Atlanta. And he fell in love with his wife. So he moved to Atlanta and they were there, you know, doing many projects, actually, many of these sort of matboard and more previous type things like, and so, you know, that’s how they were there, but I, I didn’t need to be there at the because I was doing it all digital.

And that kind of goes back to your question earlier too, is, you know, we didn’t really go for like the local sales and that kind of stuff too much. We focused much more on the digital side.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. Um, but are you selling all over the world or North America

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: or just the U S U S market is obviously the easiest, the biggest it’s the infrastructure is incredible.

I mean, I’d love to do Canada and we’ve poked and prodded and tried, but one of the challenges of our business [00:18:00] is the shipping is very. Critical. It’s very expensive. Some of these mats and frames are very big. They’re very fragile. So, you know, if you’re paying 20, 30 bucks for a mat and you’re paying 40 bucks for shipping, it’s just not a good value proposition.

So there’s actually a guy who, who started it in Canada. It was like, you know, basically a very similar website to us, uh, just in Canada, but I know it’s tough because the market is small shipping in Canada is very difficult, you know, we’re spread out over such a huge geographic area in the U S it’s just.

Way easier. I mean, that’s,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: that’s kind of like the critical success factor of an e commerce business, right? Like shipping it’s kind of, you know, if you can find a niche or a category that is, that has a demand. For the product that you’re selling and the product is small and easy to ship. I think that’s kind of the, you know, the sweet spot I think if shipping is either, it’s really heavy or the item is like really like [00:19:00] dimensionally large.

I think that makes everything a little bit more challenging. And to me, it seems like it’s more of the dimension aspect that is the challenging part with your. Uh, product,

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: right? Absolutely. Yeah. It’s a dimensional side for us. And that’s just why like companies like Amazon, they’re just so fulfilled by Amazon.

It’s a simple solution for a lot of entrepreneurs starting out. You don’t have to deal with, you know, that, that aspect of it, because the shipping is so expensive and you know, and it’s not just the shipping of it as the returns is the damage it’s, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah. That’s it. I think that’s probably the biggest challenge for e commerce and we spent a lot of time and money making sure that our shipping process is good.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, in terms of this item, can you share a little bit what the manufacturing or, um, purchasing of this item is? Are you purchasing this from like a China kind of, uh, uh, supplier or do you

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: manufacture it yourself? Yeah. So. Definitely [00:20:00] nothing from China. Everything’s made in USA. All our supplies are made in USA.

We take a lot of pride in that. I mean, I’m not an American, but like, I take pride in the aspect of, of keeping things local. It’s better on many levels. Um, I think ethically it’s better, but I think also, you know, from a environmental perspective, plus quality as well, quality control. So for Matt, essentially what we do is we buy these big sheets.

They come in 32 by 40 or slightly bigger depending on the color. And so then you take this huge sheet. We get like pallets and pallets of them from Crescent, and then we cut them down to size for whatever order, you know, the customer wants, that’s basically the simple aspect of it. Um, so, you know, you have these big mat cutters, you have, uh, these guillotines, you know, various different equipment that you need that we’ve set up, but all of it’s done.

In Atlanta with us suppliers,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: that’s, that’s really awesome. Um, but do [00:21:00] you think, um, I’m, I’m assuming, you know, you have the right profit margin to be able to do that, but do you think that if you bought these items or, you know, uh, have these, had these items manufactured and like a Chinese kind of situation or like an overseas situation where you can.

You know, save costs and pass that on to the customer. Like, you know, as you said, you know, shipping is a channel. I mean, customers probably pay higher shipping costs and so forth. Do you think that that could be a value add or, um, do you think that, you know, that’s

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: not worth it from. Well, I can say for specifically for us, you know, getting mats from China, for example, of course we’d save money, but we’d lose on so many other aspects.

You know, with Crescent, I’m not going to say Crescent’s like the best supplier. They have their own sets of issues, you know, but at least, you know, if there’s a problem, they’re close. They can, they can reship it. They can help us again. You know that I know the quality, it’s a brand that has a good [00:22:00] reputation.

And to be honest with you, I think this is one of the challenges that entrepreneurs have is like, you know, focusing so much on cost. Whereas my view is got to focus on making money, right? They spend money to make money kind of thing. Costs always matters. And of course you want to, you know, make sure you have a profitable business, but if you can’t have a profitable business doing.

The right things as in getting the right quality product, paying your people, you know, the right amount, ensuring that when there are situations where customers have issues that, you know, you can cover that, you can take care of them. Then I feel like it’s not a good business to be in, you know, these businesses that are all about.

Just cost cutting cost savings. I don’t like it. Personally. I don’t like it as I find it very frustrating to kind of deal on that level. We’re always just thinking about how to reduce costs, how to reduce costs. Um, you know, you charge a fair amount. And if people feel like that’s the value. [00:23:00] Then, you know, they’ll buy your stuff and they have for us where we are one of the more expensive ones, I will say, but people are happy to pay because they know they’re getting a really, really good, high quality product with good service delivered on time.

I don’t want to be the, the, the low cost, you know, and then getting from China has so many of its own issues, but fundamentally it’s like, what am I gaining? But I can charge a little bit less and undercut my competitor. I’d rather not have to deal with that and just. Have people appreciate the quality and then just know that, Hey, this is worth it.

Right. Yeah, definitely.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, in terms of bringing customers to the site, so, you know, your site, your business has been running for more than 10 years now, how has, and you took on the marketing kind of the area of the business, um, what have you done over the last 10 years to really, uh, to, to drive traffic to the website and, and Really?[00:24:00]

Drive the customer acquisition. Can you talk a little bit about the marketing side of

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: things? Yeah. I mean, Google ads is by far the biggest driver and the most successful for us. So, you know, that has been consistent from day one. And I think part of the reason is our product has high intent, you know? So like you said, a lot of people don’t even know what a Mat word is.

So if you, and we tried it, like you throw a Facebook ad and it’s like, Hey. You know, order this mat from us. People are like, what’s a mat. They don’t know we make, we made these like videos that I thought were like really cool. But they didn’t resonate with people because it’s not something that like you stop and you’re like, oh no, yeah, you know, right.

I need to go buy a mat right now. Now frames are a little different and I think that can be a little bit disruptive. You know, it’s like, oh yeah, where do I get my stuff framed from? But because we’re like a Mat board focused company, the framing side is been tough for us to like penetrate on a wide scale.

People buy mats and then they’ll add a frame. [00:25:00] But you know, and I don’t. It’s very competitive too. So like just doing like a pure frame campaign, our website’s not built for it. It’s a very, very competitive. And so what I mean to say is Google has been by far the best because of the high intent nature of people searching for custom mats.

So Google ads, and then of course, Google SEO as well. And from an SEO side, it’s, you know, a lot of focus on the technical from the beginning. Um, that was the biggest, biggest focus. And because it’s not a very, very competitive industry, we’ve, we tend to rank really well for the, the keywords that we’ve, that we need to like custom mass matboard, et cetera.

So we, you know, just, it’s mostly about onsite for us onsite SEO was the biggest focus. So social media. Less of a deal for us, you know, not that significant. Um, the other side of it, that’s kind of interesting is that, you know, Google ads has always, I’d say [00:26:00] always, but up until a few years ago was pretty much exceeding our capacity.

You know, so just through Google ads and through Google SEO and then the repeat business. Cause that’s, that’s the key part, right? When someone comes to the website, they buy customer for life. So we had a lot of just organic growth that way too. Um, and then art shows, you know, good art shows, but, but those, the main thing is the Google ads and the Google SEO and our limiting factor for so many years has been on the production side.

It’s, it’s, it’s like, It’s been challenging. It’s been challenging on that side, um, to, to really get, you know, All the equipment that we need, equipment would break down. So we have our costs. One of the things that we did really well on a cost side, you know, again, because of my brother in law’s expertise was his ability to source, you know, secondhand equipment, especially starting out, right.

Secondhand equipment, these kinds of things. I know I’m taking your question in a lot of different directions. I, [00:27:00] sorry, I apologize for that, but it is important to understand that like, um, we didn’t put such a huge emphasis. On expanding our marketing efforts until more recently. Cause then when COVID hit, it was a whole other ball game.

Right. And we had so much more traffic than we could have ever expected. It was crazy. It was everybody wanted to come, uh, and buy mats at that time. So Our limiting factor was like production, right? So the marketing stuff we’d, we’d push on Google ads and Google ads, you know, it was always evolving. It’s always changing being same, similar concept.

We push on SEO and then our experiments into social media, uh, we’re never that successful. So COVID really made it kind of irrelevant as well to even want to do more marketing stuff. I remember like we literally signed a contract. With an agency. And we were like, you know what, we’re going to try something different.

Our social media hasn’t been doing well. Let’s bring an agency on board and maybe they can like crack it for us. And like two weeks [00:28:00] later, COVID hit and I had to cancel the contract with them. And then we just, we didn’t need anything from a marketing side. It was just, the demand was way beyond what we could handle.


Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: That’s so interesting. I mean, I think from a marketing perspective, yeah, I agree. This sounds like such a unique product where, you know, a person would not, would not like you can’t, uh, yeah, of course, I mean, you can do some sort of an education campaign to educate people on the mad horse and maybe they, they, but yeah, if somebody is specifically looking for it, then yeah, you know, then it’s important that they’re able to find it.

Uh, what do you think was driving the, um, The demand during the COVID just, you know, people are at home and they just want to, uh, you know, put things on the

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: wall. Yeah. I think, I think part of it is that, I mean, across the board, e commerce was booming, right? So like, you know, Shopify and these other businesses, they did so well during COVID, so, you know, you couldn’t go to a store, I guess, right.

So you’d go [00:29:00] online, but then also, I think for sure, the aspect of being at home and seeing, okay, you know what, now it’s time to do these projects. So it was, it was a really exciting time. Um, COVID’s got over now though, and suddenly you have a whole new set of challenges, right? So we spent so much energy during that time to build up our capacity and actually our warehouse is the best state it’s ever been, right?

So there’s no longer a factor of getting these secondhand equipment and such. We have like the newer equipment, we’ve invested in it, you know, we have a great team, we got another warehouse, you know, getting more space, et cetera. So that was perfect, but the COVID sort of boom ended. You know, and, and when it ended, it also came with a huge increase in marketing expenses.

So, you know, I don’t know if you heard this or whether entrepreneurs, but during COVID Google ads was actually pretty cheap. And then [00:30:00] sort of towards the end of it, Google ads became insanely expensive. Right. So the marketing budget for like, it’s just, we used to spend, you know, I don’t want to make numbers up, but I know it was in the range of like 10 for a conversion.

That was like when we were doing really well. During COVID times. And now it’s more like 20 a conversion, right? So it’s a huge increase in cost. There’s many factors that go into it, but overall Google got more expensive. Um, and now we sort of shifting our strategy for the first time in a while. So we’re, we’re doing the social, putting more emphasis on it, but I feel like social isn’t going to create conversions.

It’s more just brand awareness, connecting with our customers. It’s more about keeping the customers. We do have, that’s kind of part of that strategy. Although same thing that with Google got expensive meta and Facebook, they got expensive too. So they’ve really limited your ability to get organic reach and, uh, you know, you have to boost posts, et cetera.

They’ve made it tough on, on their side, [00:31:00] but the affiliate side is where. The future is, I think, especially for us. Um, sorry, that’s my son. I don’t know if you can hear him crying in the back. I can’t, I can’t. Okay. No problem. Uh, so the affiliate side is, is the new thing for us. And we really, I, I’m almost like embarrassed that we didn’t get into it much, much earlier.

But again, like I said, the COVID push made it to like marketing efforts were not really the priority. Everything was on a production side. Right.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So, I mean, to me, it seems like there’s. Kind of a risk, uh, if your main marketing channel is Google, you know, as you said, the Google increased their prices and you’re kind of paying double and something happens to Google, you know, Google decides to make changes, you know, with the whole new chat GPT thing and everything, um, it seems like a kind of a big, big risk.

So I think it definitely makes sense to have another channel like affiliate too. To [00:32:00] kind of balance, balance that risk.

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: absolutely true as 100% true. And that’s like a big reason why we’ve been focusing more on the affiliate side, diversifying for sure.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: For sure. Yeah. In terms of production. So you said that, you know, this business requires some sort of an equipment, equipment really to cut these pieces into the right sizes that you sell, is that what it is?

So you purchased the, the paper and then. Um, you’re basically cutting it down into the different sizes

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: or shapes and so forth. That’s right. Yeah. So there’s, there’s two main kinds of cutting right outside and the opening for the most part, but yeah, it’s all about cutting it down to the right size.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And do you sell your products on any marketplaces or is it completely a hundred percent your website?

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: So we are, we’re on Amazon in a very limited state. Uh, again, Amazon is sort of low [00:33:00] cost, right? People are trying to buy the off the shelf. It’s, it’s tough to, I think it’s kind of impossible actually to do a custom, truly custom product on Amazon, the way that our builder does, which is nice because, you know, If Amazon could do the same thing we do, then Amazon would win.

Still do that ability to customize things is what allows us to differentiate from Amazon, but we’ve done Amazon and, you know, we’ll just like clearance items, sort of excess stock Etsy is on my list and I. Definitely need to, to, to try it a little bit better. I know some of our bigger competitors, they do well on Etsy.

So I think that’s a market that I think will be successful for us. It’s on my to do list. Yeah.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. Very interesting. Uh, have you had, uh, I mean, I guess your product, the The, the value proposition is really the customizability. So on Amazon, since people can only probably buy just, you know, uh, some of the customs, you know, [00:34:00] uh, pre, pre-med sizes, uh, do you receive, uh, a lot of, like what percentage of

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: your revenue?

I’d say it’s, it’s basically irrelevant. Yeah. You know? Okay. Yeah. It’s not, it’s not significant at all. Um,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Have there been any campaigns that you’ve run, uh, marketing campaigns or any, any other thing that has kind of. Um, given you, uh, besides COVID, you know, given you like, uh, uh, better than normal

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: ROI. Uh,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: like, have there been any stories that you can share that, uh, from a marketing perspective or something that has been a kind of a success

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: story?

Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s, we were doing affiliate before I even really knew what affiliate was kind of by accident because, and I think this is like an important thing to, you know, don’t ever underestimate the value of luck. Honestly, I would say this was, this is largely a lucky thing that happened to us right in the first days of the business.

One of our biggest competitors [00:35:00] closed. Okay. And there was a guy, Robert Burridge, who, uh, ordered from us and I started speaking with him and he’s a big influential art teacher. And he used to tell every one of his customers, his, his, uh, his students to go to DocuMounts. And I just happened to connect with him through, I can’t even remember now, it was so long ago, but I remember I connected with him.

I think I, I found his newsletter because I was searching DocuMounts, SEO tactics, doing backlinks. And I found his newsletter that he was promoting DocuMounts. And I said, Hey, Robert, you know, we’re like doing the same stuff. And so. That campaign cost me nothing and really jump started our process big time, you know, so sometimes, you know, it’s, it is a matter of just like a couple of really, you know, lucky slash, you know, you create your own luck, but they have a disproportionately positive effect.

So the Robert Burridge documents, those [00:36:00] newsletters, his students used to just like, you know, listen to anything he said. So when he told them go to this company and buy these mats, a lot of them came to us. Um, so that was, that was really, really positive. We don’t do a lot of couponing, you know, and this is something that I’m sure a lot of entrepreneurs, you know, think about, but I really think they need to think about it more is just pricing, right?

Pricing is in our business is very complicated because the price is a function of, you know, there’s quality of the mat, then there’s a volume discounts. Then when you add accessories, they have their own curves. The pricing structure and our website back end is complicated. Front end is super easy. The more you get, the more you save.

You know, we tell you how much the price is, how much the savings is, and it’s easy and anyone can do it. You don’t need like special codes, but I realized, you know, and I’m constantly, constantly doing a B testing, um, to try to maximize [00:37:00] the, the profit basically. Right. From these products and find those inefficiencies.

Like can a 16 by 20 be 5% more expensive. You know, how much more should an 18 by 24 be relative. And we started with like making everything a function of cost. You know, if it costs this much, we add a margin and it’s that simple. But now I’m realizing like there’s a lot more we can do in that regard. So we do these campaigns where, you know, we would manipulate prices a little bit.

You know, we’d read, increase them by a certain amount and then give a particular discount. And just through that process, we discovered. But yes, there’s like a lot of value in tweaking and adjusting the most significant, if you can guess it, what do you think would be the most significant pricing consideration?

Just like change the entire dynamic of our website. And honestly, we only really fully jumped into it. Like a few weeks ago,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I [00:38:00] don’t know, increase the price or something

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: free shipping. I mean, had a massively disproportionate benefit. Um, you know, but the thing is with free shipping, you know, we’re, we’re losing on in certain ways.

So it’s a bit of a longer term strategy, but you know, you, you have to kind of play the game a little bit, right? You give the free shipping, but then you increase the prices a little bit, then you add a processing fee. Then it’s like, what’s the level where people are willing to pay a processing fee, but not a shipping fee.

But like people hate shipping. You can charge them a hundred dollars. Right. For an item that costs 50 and say free shipping versus 50 and 20 of shipping. That the grand total isn’t what they think about. Shipping has no value. Amazon has created this world where if you’re charging for shipping, you’re basically losing all your customers.

You just can’t charge for shipping. You have to find a way to bake it into. So that has a huge disproportionate effect. I [00:39:00] wouldn’t call it a marketing campaign per se, although, yeah, I mean, we did, we promoted it, we put it on Google. And it had a very, very positive effect.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: That’s, that’s so interesting. I mean, shipping.

Yeah, it makes complete sense. And I, I guess, you know, if your strategy could be free shipping as in general, I think it will probably drive huge loyalty in the long run. Right. You know, people. You know, people, it’s like, even when I share it, it’s like, you know, if, if, if someone has free shipping, it almost relaxes you.

It’s like, you know, you, you may add few other items, that, you know, you don’t have to, it’s almost like the, I think the perception, even though they probably add the cost on the, uh, product itself, yes. It’s the perception that I’m not just throwing away that money for free on shipping.

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: It’s, uh, it’s a silly thing, you know?

But if you, if you charge. You know, someone more money, but there’s a discount involved. They’ll feel better even though they’re paying [00:40:00] more. Yeah. Yeah. And I, and I honestly, I tell you, this is the kind of stuff that I never liked to do in this kind of, I like doing the other stuff where it’s like, you know, certain sizes and tweaking things and adjusting it, you know, and trying to understand like where the true value is and making sure that, but this is like the simple strategy of just increased prices and then add a discount.

It always felt very. Cheap to me. I didn’t really like it. And then like that person that I just philosophically was very against it. It’s what the customers want. It’s like, honestly, like, and that’s what they want. And that’s what drives so much of, you know, these coupon sites. And, and I, and I have to do this because of these affiliate programs and these coupon sites, loyalty sites, everything’s driven by offers.

Right. So you have to play the game and it really is a game and it’s a game that I don’t enjoy and I don’t think it’s, uh, but that’s what people want. And that’s what seems to work. So, you know, [00:41:00] it’s, uh,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: it’s, it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s psychology. It’s psychology. Um, you mentioned AB testing. Are you using like a certain?

Software for that, or is it mostly manual

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: kind of thing? No, I mean, in the past we used the Google Optimize, Google Experiments, you know, Google Ads. I’ll do some A B tests. But the main thing that I, we have is our, we have, everything is built on our own custom platform. So we do A B testing internally. Not, no, we don’t use any particular software, but I have to start getting even more advanced on the AB testing and start testing, you know, trying different landing pages and different, you know, tech we we’ve done a lot of those things, but I’m realizing how valuable it is.

And I think we need to be just testing. Constantly as many things as we possibly can. Um, another website that kind of helps with that lucky orange, that’s a good tool, you know, it does like the heat mats and, uh, that kind of stuff. So you can, you can kind of build into maybe testing that [00:42:00] way too. Okay.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, you said your website is custom, is it custom coded?

So you’re Shopify kind of a solution. That’s right. Do you have like a development team that manages that or

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: how do you? Honestly, my, my brother’s a pretty, pretty smart guy, you know, so he’s, he’s been able to, for the most part, single handedly, uh, architect the website and it’s been incremental, right? It’s something, it’s a project that’s been over 10 years, so nothing happened in a day, but yeah, he’s, he’s in charge of it.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. I mean, the website looks pretty, pretty good to be honest, you know, uh, easy to use a very user friendly kind of a thank you. So yeah, I mean, great, great job on that. Um, I was going to ask you about your team. So you mentioned that you have, uh, you know, three partners. Um, who else is in your business?

Uh, who helps you out with your

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: business? So the majority of our employees are in the warehouse itself, right? [00:43:00] They’re, they’re the ones who are like working on the floor, cutting the mats, packaging them, shipping them. Uh, you know, a few of the people have been there since like day one and very, very like, we value them greatly and you can’t have the quality and you can’t have the consistency without a great team.

So big kudos to them. Uh, you know, then on the tech side. Again, like I said, my, my, my brother, my partner, he essentially runs that and we all work together, right? You know, on the UX side. There’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of testing that I do and working with him. Um, and then I have a customer service, right?

And, and that’s a role that’s evolved over time as well. The customer service used to be strictly just like answer emails and phone calls. I did it myself for the first five years. Well, it’s actually a very instructive time, right? He’s talking to customers on a daily basis, but also like overwhelming, right?

Um, one of our competitors, I know the guy is still doing it, all the customer [00:44:00] service himself. So, you know, but his role now, because the websites evolve so much. There aren’t a lot of people asking, how do I do this? The website is so clear that they can just do it, but you know, it’s, it’s, it’s more managing like the relationships, the engagement.

Some of these customers have been with us for so many years that on the social media side, people share their art with us. You know, he connects with them on that level, giving them suggestions, doing custom designs, you know, unique projects, you know, he’s a, he’s a great resource on that side. And he’s also helps on, on the design, a lot of the, you know, the email blast email marketing, you know, I’m trying to, to build him up to be a marketer.

You know, customer service to me is under the marketing umbrella, but like, you know, less dealing with, you know, customer complaints and more dealing with, you know, the social, the design and promoting us and connecting with customers that way. So that that’s essentially our team. [00:45:00]

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, in terms of your future vision for the business, um, so it’s kind of like, you know, you have a niche product or a niche business, which is doing, uh, you know, pretty well.

It’s like, um, do you think of. Adding some sort of adjacent categories or, you know, over time, have you learned off like another product that customers are like, do you sell this, uh, in addition to what you’re selling already or something like that? Do you ever think about, uh, adding additional categories that can, you know, bring up your, um, uh, business to the next level?

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: Yeah, a hundred percent all the time. Um, That it’s, it’s interesting business because. You know, how do you define the business? Do you define it as a matting company, a framing company, an art company, you know, so the framing part is got massive potential. Like I said, a lot of people buy frames from us and we know we have really great frames, but they’re just adding them to their mats versus coming [00:46:00] to us for the frame.

Framing is a multi billion dollar industry, right? It’s huge. The other thing that’s big is when someone wants to get the complete package. So we do the printing. So printing as a product is a huge opportunity and that’s actually where most of the competitors kind of live, you know, that’s what people think about is I give them my picture, they print it, they frame it, and they send it to me with my brother.

And then my brother, they created that business 15 years ago, called it folder to frame great name. And you know, but I had limited success. It was kind of ahead of its time. Now there’s a lot of companies that are doing that kind of work. So yes, you know, we think about it all the time. Do we get into printing and making like the complete package, but it’s.

It’s challenging, right? And you start to dilute things and you start to confuse things a little bit. I think there’s a lot more we can do with the matting, the customizing of the matting, there’s, there’s more we can push there. We can get our name out there even more. Uh, and I want to really [00:47:00] make sure that we like.

Put our energy into our core, you know, before I start thinking too much about printing or being exclusively into like the frame side, but you know, it’s, it’s all happening kind of at the same time. We’re interested in, excuse me, in that growth. And I think there is a lot of opportunity there. And, you know, even like for us, like another product plexiglass.

That could be a new product that can drive sales, right? A new product for us is the way you cut the mat, you have different corners. We already have like ovals, you know, sometimes you can add different shapes. So sometimes it’s like the same thing that we’re selling, but just, you know, giving more options, right?

So it’s, it’s, it’s interesting always for us, like, what is our product? How do you define that product? Where do we fall in this sort of industry? Um, but we’re very happy with where we are. I’ll be honest with you. I’m very happy with where we are. And I feel like there’s still a lot more [00:48:00] growth that is available to us.

With the matting side

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: on a personal load. I mean, to me, it seems like it’s, uh, it’s a great job, right? I mean, you can, you don’t have to go anywhere. You know, you have, uh, you have job security, you can work from home, you can travel and work, work any from anywhere. Uh, so it seems like, you know, a perfect job.

Do you, do you, uh, enjoy, enjoy the flexibility? What, what do you enjoy the most

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: on a personal? Yeah, a hundred percent. Um, you know, it’s funny you mentioned that because A lot of what I saw when I remember that first day and I, and I saw the website was my own future, right? I could see the success of the business, but I could also see this is my ticket to getting away from the corporate grind.

I was an engineer working nine to five, not a good job then too, but the freedom and the flexibility didn’t exist. So that was a huge driving force for me. And I did, I traveled the world. Um, I was part of a program called remote year [00:49:00] where that’s what people did, right? Um, work remotely and then they got the travel.

I went to Europe, um, even today, you know, I have my family and I do love it. I’m very fortunate, very blessed. Um, kind of the future that I hoped and envisioned at that time has, is a reality right now. And that is, that’s, that’s blessed for sure.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah, no, no, that’s, that’s, uh, I think that’s everyone’s dream for sure.

Um, in every entrepreneur’s journey, there’s always mistakes made, lessons learned, failures. Uh, you know, over the 10 years that you’ve been working with this project, what comes to mind as kind of like a mistake or a failure or left unlearned that, that, that taught you something and that you can share with other,

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: uh, entrepreneurs.

I think we just consistently, one of the challenges of my board and more is that we just not aggressive enough, not aggressive enough. You know, it’s been great that we’ve had this sustainable growth and like it’s been steady and it’s been [00:50:00] incremental. I often think, you know, From day one, what if not necessarily that we, you know, hired a marketing guy, right?

Like in that sense, but what if we invested more into our equipment and our production, right? My brother actually didn’t quit his day job for two years. So he was working at night. He was, I don’t know how he did it, but you know, he’d do his day job and then he would do this at night. What if he’d left right away, you know, and we, all the things that we learned over those two years, we accelerated that process.

Even the stuff that happened during COVID or we reinvent, we reinvested into production, got another warehouse, got more equipment. So I often feel like we missed opportunities because we should have capitalized more on COVID. I hate to say that. I know it’s a, that’s a very, you know what I mean to say? I mean, from a business perspective, it was, it was a huge amount of demand that we weren’t able to capture.

It’s lost [00:51:00] right now. I have to work 10 times harder to get that same demand. So. We weren’t aggressive and opportunistic. And I feel like for the first time in a while, we now have the confidence. Maybe, I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the confidence. Maybe it’s the stage we are in our lives. Maybe we’re, I’m not sure.

I’m not sure what exactly has changed. Uh, but over the last year, we’ve really sort of said, you know what. Let’s go like, let’s, let’s, let’s take this to another level. Let’s push, we’re all sort of on board. And so we are for the first time in like, I’d say the business history being very aggressive versus sort of just taking things as they come.

So I think that’s the biggest mistake that we’ve consistently sort of made. Yeah. Um,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: and you know, I was, I was recently talking to another person and I think they shared something similar. It’s like, When you find that product market fit, then, then [00:52:00] don’t be timid. Then it’s like, then that’s the time to,

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: to go.

Yeah. Strike while the iron is hot, push, push, push, you know, as, as much as you possibly can. Um, so that, that’s, that’s probably, I would say like our most significant error in thinking. Definitely.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Uh, now I’m going to move on to a rapid fire segment in this segment. I’m going to ask you a few quick questions and you have to answer them maybe in a word or so, um, the sentence.

The first one is, uh, a book recommendation for entrepreneurs

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: and why. Um, there’s a great book, it’s called Influence by Robert, I can’t say his name, Siadini. It’s an older book, yeah, it’s an incredible book, uh, Fundamentals of Marketing, can’t miss it. Definitely. That’s one

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: of the seminal books of Persuasion and Psychology, um, an innovative product or idea in the current e commerce, retail, or tech landscape that

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: you feel excited about.

I think there’s a big shift. Like I said, Google ads is so expensive. Everything has to be driven now by partnerships, user [00:53:00] generated content. People want to see other people using your stuff. That’s where trust that’s where, you know, it’s, it’s all built. So affiliate is, is huge now.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Awesome. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a productivity tip?

We use

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: Asana for all of our task management. It’s free and it basically has all the features that we, that we want. And I honestly, I couldn’t live without it. Okay.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Uh, a startup or a business, uh, in e commerce, retail, or tech that you think it’s currently doing great things.

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: Matboard and more. I don’t know.

Chut Docs. Honestly, this one, I’m not really, nothing comes to mind immediately. Um, so yeah, I’ll just skip that one.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. A peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: inspired you? I don’t know if this is in the vein of your question, but Arnold Schwarzenegger, I recently watched his Netflix special and he’s just such a like, Epic figure.

And, you know, in the vein of what we’re trying to do right now, which is to [00:54:00] push, he’s been inspirational. His messaging.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah, I, I, I need to watch that one. I’ve been hearing some really great things about that. Yeah, it is. It’s good. Final, final question. Uh, best business advice you ever received or you would give to other

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: entrepreneurs, action, action, action.

Just do it. You know, like Nike’s like people think way too much. They overthink, they ponder, they strategize. Just do it. Do the first thing, you know, just start work action, stop thinking, stop writing, stop planning, stop talking, do something, you know, that’s it.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: That’s, that’s definitely a great, uh, great message to share.

Well, uh, many. Thank you so much. That was, uh, such a

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: great, uh, you know,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: uh, interview. Thank you for sharing your time. Thank you for sharing your story. And, you know, your business lessons. If anybody wants to check out your website was the best way

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: to [00:55:00] get in touch. I mean, just check out matboardandmore. com.

If anybody wants to chat further, um, I’m sure you can provide my email. I’m happy to, to, to provide that as well. So mcajboffatmatboardandmore. com. Um, you know, and if you need a Mat board, let me know as well. Happy to help.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Awesome. Well, uh, Mehdi, thank you again for your time today and thank you so much for joining Trep Talks.

I wish you and your business

Mehdi Kajbaf of Matboard and More: all the best. Awesome. Thank you very much.


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