Below is the text of an interview I did with Rob of Lady Umbrella, an up and coming t-shirt line out of Dublin, Ireland. I actually poured a little emotion out when doing this interview – even my Dad said he learned something about me. Enjoy!
Rob: Hey Chris, firstly, thanks very much for being the first person from the t-shirt world that I’m going to interview…and also, congrats on your one year anniversary of Rizzo Tees…Did you do anything special to mark the occasion?
Chris: It’s funny you ask that, because I didn’t do nearly enough to mark the occasion, business-wise or personally. On the business side, I tweeted and Facebooked about the big day (9:45am on 30/10/2008), but I didn’t have a big blowout sale or anything. I didn’t email my email list. I was so busy with regular life things as the day approached… and all of a sudden it was the morning of the 30th, I had to go to work… and my celebration was boiled down to a tweet and a Facebook update. I should probably do a little more next year! On a personal level, my wife wanted to take me out to dinner to celebrate, and this might sound grumpy, but I told her no. I said, “I don’t feel I have anything to celebrate yet.” Business-wise, I’m rather impatient and unsatisfied by nature. There will come a time for big celebrations, but at this point I’m a million miles away from there.
Rob: …lets get down to it, are you as funny as your t-shirts suggest you are in real life? how do you get your ideas for your tees or your “inspiration”? I think its fair to say that your designs and ideas are a bit of the beaten track “Props to my tweeps” for example or “I did it for the Halibut” or “Kama Supra”…
Chris: I am scary funny. In all seriousness, if you ever meet me in person (can my wife and I come crash on your floor in Dublin? I am serious), I’m a pretty fun, easygoing guy. I’ve never done stand-up comedy or anything like that, but I have a wit that was probably shaped by watching shows like the Simpsons, Family Guy, etc. And sometimes I’m just a nerdy weird guy… and nerdy weird guys have lots of thoughts that occur to them, and I found that many of those could translate to t-shirts. At that point, I realized I had found a great business to start. As far as the tee ideas, I keep track of all of my ideas in an Excel spreadsheet, and I have hundreds of them. My wife and I literally scored them in the beginning, weeding out some of the terrible ideas. Do it for the Halibut – some joker in college used to say that (he’d also say, “No, I did it on Porpoise.”) Kama Supra… I just thought it would be hilarious to have a Supra getting another Supra from behind. After debuting with 32 designs, I feel like some of my latest designs are actually my best.
Rob: So, now, you’re one year into your t-shirt career…have you been able to make it your full time job or do you have any other job? or, in a past life, what job did you have and any skills from that job which are helping you in your t-shirt career?
Chris: I continue to have a full-time job by day. I am very far away from being able to make this my full-time job. I need to sell about 50 shirts a day, on average, in order to make it my full-time job, and I feel that’s really a bare minimum. I have a long way to go. I am a CPA by trade, which in the United States means I’m a professional accountant. I have been a Chief Financial Officer of various organizations around my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, so I actually have a lot of business experience. And I found that business experience helps when you’re starting a business! : – )
Rob: Twitter…you seem to be the t-shirt champ on Twitter (well, maybe Threadless have a few more followers, just about though) and are growing daily..do you think your success on twitter helps your sales? any direct link between the two that you can establish? And how long were you “working” with twitter before it became really useful for Rizzo Tees?
Chris: Twitter is currently my number one sales channel – it has been a literal Godsend. Google Analytics proves that it’s my #1 sales channel, besides the interaction I have with customers (where they tweet “Hey, I just bought a shirt from you!”) My goal is to have Google organic traffic be my number one channel, but this is another goal that’s still out on the horizon. I am approaching the first page of Google for various important keywords, but it is HIGHLY competitive – it’s a dogfight! The cool thing about Twitter is that I love it. Like I said, I have so many random thoughts that occur to me – what better way to dump them on an unsuspecting community but a microblogging service? 140 characters = low commitment – this versus having to maintain a blog, constantly pump out new content. I do have a blog and have made some pretty decent posts on it, but I prefer the quick-hit nature of Twitter. I joined up last November I think, so it’s been about a year. It started helping me immediately.
Rob: Besides from Twitter your “social media game” is really on point…your Facebook fanpage has over 2,500 fans which is pretty staggering..any top tips on how to get there?
Chris: The fan page is growing pretty well at this point – my goal is to get up to 50,000 fans. A few keys: 1. Link to it from your main website, 2. Tweet about it – ask for fans, 3. Promise fans they’re gonna get something special for being a fan, 4. Pump out content on it – make posts, post pictures, do anything you can to attract fan photos, and 5. Get other fans to suggest your page to their friends.
Rob: Would you say you are Crushing It? And how did you manage to be able to do a book review for Gary Vaynerchuk? (check it out here if you haven’t seen). I’d love to be able to review that book as for me I’m converted to what Gary is preaching…alas, I can’t get the book here in Ireland yet…but, I digress..have you found the book helpful? meet Gary Vee himself?
Chris: I would love to tell you that I’m crushing it – I have to be honest and be sorta hard on myself at this point. I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, but completely unsatisfied and a little cranky about it. My wife keeps telling me it’s all so amazing what I’ve been able to do so far, almost all on my own, and I just keep telling her “we’re not even close.” I am always lecturing her about “stopping to smell the roses,” but when it comes to my own business, I can’t even do that. Perhaps that’s a healthy thing for business, but I can’t help myself – we’re eons away from meeting with true success. The question was “Am I crushing it?” There are TOO MANY times when I go to bed instead of working until the A.M. hours. Part of my life credo is balance – Gary Vaynerchuk has NO balance in his life. And that is working for him – he is raking in five figures per keynote, selling tons of books, they just started Cinderellawine.com and MY DAD is already addicted to the site…. Gary is working 20 hours a day. I am not doing that. I am working a full-time job, trying to do the best job I can there. I am driving my kids to school, picking them up. The past month or so, I’ve been sleeping alot more than I used to (6-8 hours a night, versus 4). I can’t lie to you – there are times of self-doubt when I realize that I am NOT crushing it. It can be hard to motivate yourself when you’re just mentally and physically drained. In direct reference to Garyvee, I am a huge skeptic of the “internet gurus,” the stars that give these keynotes, ask you to buy their systems, have an answer for everything….. Gary is the sole guru-type guy that I actually listen to. I was on one of his Ustream chats, and as I am apt to do, I started making tons of comments. His book was being discussed, he was asking for help, and I commented that I would tweet the F**k out of it when it came out. Gary took note and said, on the live Ustream, “Rizzo, I need more from you.” He said it several times. So I emailed him and told him to send me a prerelease copy (this was like a month and a half before it came out). He wrote back, cc’ing his publisher, and said let’s do it. A week later I was holding a prerelease copy of his book. I hate reading books – I have no patience or attention span for such things. But his book actually was a very easy and compelling read – I can honestly recommend it. I think you can get a version for Kindle and for iPhone too – I don’t know if that’s an option for folks in Ireland or not. I have never met Gary himself, but he’s coming to St. Louis for a booksigning, and I’m going to go to it and say hi. I actually sent Gary a “Props to my Tweeps” shirt as a thank-you for inspiring me to work hard (that sounds cheesy and corny but it’s true). However, I have yet to see any photographic evidence that he’s worn it. : – ( — [March 2010 update: he’s worn it twice on his show!!!! Check it out ]
Rob: Throughout your debut year I’m sure there must have been some ups and downs…what moment gave you the most elation in the last year? and then, the other side of the coin, what made you question why you’re selling t-shirts and how did you get over it? – or has it been all plain sailing..
Chris: During this year, I have not once questioned whether all of this is a good idea, whether I should have taken the plunge… I am having a great time, and I am convinced I am in a great business. I think I have a nice website and a good product, and for not having any paid advertising, I feel I’m taking pretty good advantage of all of my free options (social media, blog commentary, etc). I’d say the worst thing that’s happened this year would be attempts to defraud me – people with stolen credit cards pounding my site. It’s just silly – I’m not shipping out anything that’s even remotely suspicious – and it’s rather unfortunate – I just feel bad for the people that have had their card numbers stolen. It’s the seedy underbelly of business – not the fun part of selling stuff, interacting with customers. It’s the bullshit of running a business. It’s hard to pick one event that caused me the most elation. I would say seeing my tees on people. Any time someone posts a picture of themselves in my tee, I get HELLA excited! I have not yet personally ran into anyone randomly on the street wearing one of my designs (that will be mindblowing), but I came close. My brother in Milwaukee said he was out in his backyard, and he saw his neighbor’s brother wearing my Barack That Ass Up shirt. His brother had bought one of my designs, happened to be wearing it that day, my brother happened to see…. what are the chances? I emailed the customer and we had a good laugh about it.
Rob: Alright, we’re getting there..just a few more questions…what is your top selling t-shirt? and any idea why you think it is your top selling tee? And, can you spill the beans and put a number on how many of them you have sold?
Chris: Props to my Tweeps is number one. I don’t know how many I’ve sold – I don’t pay alot of attention to the numbers (which is funny because of my trained profession). I have had to print the tee three times, while I have designs that have never gone to a second printing. And the tee debuted in May 2009, so all the other tees had a head start on it, and yet it’s #1. I think it’s a good looking shirt – good color choices, good knockoff on the Twitter font, and it obviously speaks directly to the millions of people that are rapt by the phenomenon that is Twitter.
Rob: And for all the Rizzo Tees fans out there what does the future hold? Do you have any ideas in the pipeline you’d like to tell us about? Some new designs on the horizon? or just a special someone you’d like to say hi to hehe…the stage is yours….
Chris: The future holds moving some more cotton! I have hundreds of ideas in the pipeline – it’s a matter of money. My basement (what do you call a basement in Ireland?) has plenty more room for tees, so space is not an issue. I just have to sell more of my existing designs in order for my new designs to see the light of day. On my “About Us” page, I say that I never want to have to hire anyone, that I like being on my own. Philosophically, this is true. However, if I can truly “break thru,” take my tee ideas into the mainstream, and sell hundreds a day, I can assure you there is NO WAY in hell I will be able to handle this on my own. During the next year, I am going to try to put out at least 12 new designs, continue to market the F out of the company, and hopefully get closer to that day when I can make it my full-time job. At that time, I will feel like I truly TCB’ed. (TCB = takin’ care of business). Hey man, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you! Cheers! *tips back a Guinness*