Brian Lim is the founder and CEO of iHeartRaves, INTO THE AM, and Emazing Lights which collectively form The Emazing Group. They are curators of all-over print clothing and world leaders in festival fashion and gaming apparel. The company currently has a gross revenue of around $30 million annually and they have been featured in the Inc. 5000 six years in a row.
Surprisingly enough, Brian actually started out with a mere $100 selling gloves out of the trunk of his car and he was somehow able to grow the business into a successful multi-million dollar company. He initially spent $100 sourcing parts for his light-up glove idea and then built some prototypes using white stretch gloves and LED lights from key chains. Soon, he had his own website, and he assembled a team and started engineering their own glove lights. Within a year, he left his former employer Deloitte, to work on the business full time. His gloves have since then been featured on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, Disney Channel’s dance show Shake It Up! and several music videos. Brian was also on Season Six of ABC’s Shark Tank where he received offers from all five sharks. On the show, Robert Herjavec actually said that Brian was “one of, if not the best entrepreneur we’ve had here.” He took a deal from Mark Cuban for $650,000 in exchange for 5% equity in the company, and a licensing deal from Daymond John for 20% of profits.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Brian to discuss her journey as an entrepreneur and here’s what went down:
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started your business?
I am a serial entrepreneur who has bootstrapped three eCommerce businesses that include iHeartRaves, INTO THE AM, and Emazing Lights which collectively gross over $30 million per year. I started out with $100 selling out of the trunk of his car and was able to grow that into a 65+ person company called the Emazing Group. I was also on Season Six of ABC’s Shark Tank where I received offers from all five sharks.
Can you describe your journey to success? When did you start? Did you ever imagine you would become this successful?
My girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, fell in love by going to music festivals. What you wear and how you express yourself at these events is a key part of the overall experience. We would always customize our outfits and wear items you couldn’t find in the local mall. We got compliments all the time and people were always asking where we got our clothing. We felt like there was a huge need in the marketplace that no professional companies were filling and thus, we started iHeartRaves.com. I love it because it’s something that I’m truly passionate about.
What is your main source of income?
Our eCommerce stores are in a very challenging position because we primarily sell music festival fashion items. These events are being canceled or postponed all around the country and even throughout the world as COVID-19 spreads.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
Due to COVID-19, we have pivoted to focus on designing face masks.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness?
We use Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. We’ve even started using TikTok.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware of your brand and engaging your customers? How did your business stand out?
We’ve amassed over half a million followers on our iHeartRaves Instagram page and over 270K followers on our INTO THE AM Instagram page and we like to use influencers as part of our digital marketing strategy. Our target audience includes fashion oriented people who attend music festivals and enjoy electronic dance music. We engage in influencer marketing in a variety of ways. We find popular accounts that meet our criteria for selection, and we start a conversation to gauge whether or not it’s a good fit. Oftentimes, we will send one of our products to an influencer for free, in exchange for an honest review that is posted to their blog or social media followers. This leads to a ton of sales and new followers. For us, the most important element of an influencer package aside from cultural fit is the overall reach of their blog or social media accounts. We measure our return on investment based on the number of new followers we receive, the number of impressions we receive, how much referral traffic we get, and of course – how many sales come as a result of the campaign. The beauty of using social media and influencer marketing to generate sales is that they can be utilized in just about every industry, whether you’re selling a physical product or a service.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
We migrated to Klaviyo about one year ago, transitioning over from Mailchimp. Since that time, both our revenue and our email list growth has doubled. We are now segmenting and personalizing emails better than ever. In addition, we have a dedicated success manager who can be reached through a shared Slack channel, making the tool extremely easy to work with. We are now able to leverage the segments built into Klaviyo and use it for SMS marketing and Facebook advertising. In 2020 and beyond, a huge initiative tech-wise is to better optimize each marketing channel to hit our customers on their preferred devices with more personalization.
How did your brand stand out from the rest of the other brands out there that is similar to your niche?
From our unique and stylish designs to the comfortable and high-quality materials, to our fantastic customer service team, we deliver a series of great products that other brands are unable to compete with.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
We were forced to furlough 20% of staff due to COVID-19.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
I would have gotten an in-house controller much sooner to provide more accurate and timely financials. I also would have accelerated the use of “daily contribution margin” and made it transparent for the stakeholders in order to make micro-decisions to positively affect the number.
What have you learned in the process of becoming wealthy that others can learn from?
Being balanced in your personal life and business life leads to true happiness. Money is great, but after you reach a certain level, it has diminishing returns in terms of overall happiness.
What new business would you love to start?
I’m constantly fighting to suppress new company ideas and to focus on our three existing brands!
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
I would have used Shopify as my eCommerce platform from the beginning. When we first started, we were using Magento, and that proved to be a near-fatal error. After appearing on Shark Tank, we knew that being featured on a highly viewed television show would attract quite a bit of website traffic. In the year leading up to the episode’s air date, we purchased thirty servers, simulated load tests, and invested over $200,000 to make sure the site could handle the massive influx of traffic that would be coming our way. But when the episode aired, the site went down. In the world of eCommerce, uptime means everything! A lot of money was lost that day, and it made what should have been one of the happiest days, one of the worst. Since then, we’ve switched over to Shopify, and our lives have been made immeasurably easier. We likely would never have had this issue if we had been with Shopify from the beginning. All this to say – patience was definitely learned in a situation where we had to expect the unexpected. We didn’t let that situation sink our company. Instead, we grew our company and surrounded ourselves with excellent employees who would help us continue to grow in the years following.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were first making a name for yourself, what advice would you give yourself?
I would remind myself to keep pushing and striking while the iron is hot. Momentum is critical for growth, but you do need to balance out the approach and ensure the company is scalable for growth. Sometimes it’s much better to slow down so that you can speed up again. I imagine a race car driver slowing down to take a corner turn, and then accelerating through the straightaway.
Do you have any favorite business-related or personal development related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?
I really enjoyed reading EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey. In the book, he’s very straightforward and to the point with a wealth of valuable knowledge, and as a busy entrepreneur, I appreciate that.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Culture is to your employees, what your brand is to your customers. Take care of your team and they will take care of you and your customers.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
If there is a clear value that you can bring to customers, then create a minimum viable product and start selling, iterating, and growing from there.