Between the two of them, co-founders Jessica Sheft-Ason and Minsuk Kim have worked at and consulted with the biggest direct-to-consumer brands in this ecommerce era—from Glossier to Warby Parker. The lessons they learned helped them launch Goldilocks, an affordable kitchenware brand specializing in tri-ply stainless steel cookware. The brand brings chef-quality cookware bundles into the homes of cooking enthusiasts across the United States.
From their time at beloved DTC companies they knew to build a strong brand that resonates with customers and provide superior customer service. But they’ve also paved their own path, doing things a bit differently. For one, they haven’t taken on venture capital funding or external investment to supercharge their growth. Instead, they're building a sustainable bootstrapped business, establishing their entrepreneurial empire part-time while maintaining full-time jobs and consulting roles.
Despite operating and building their brand on a budget, Goldilocks cookware products have won the hearts and countertops of at-home chefs. Their quality kitchenware has been featured in Vogue, New York Magazine, and Good Housekeeping. Their Goldilocks Cookware Set Plus was also selected as the New York Times’ Wirecutter “Budget pick” for 2022. We sat down with Jessica on Shopify Masters to discuss how Goldilocks has built a growing business with a loyal customer base, without millions for marketing.
4 Tactics for Growing a DTC Business on a Budget
Jessica and Minsuk started Goldilocks with big ideas but a shoestring budget. This made it crucial for them to find what works for winning customers, and then, focus on those growth levers.
“If you find yourself focusing on things that aren't as important…trying to please [people] that aren’t the customer, shift your priorities,” says Jessica. “Ensure that you're working towards a product that is really going to ultimately meet the needs of the market.”
This focus has helped Goldilocks zoom in on tactics that are cost efficient but extremely effective—from tapping their networks and garnering customer reviews to collecting buyer feedback and prioritizing PR.
1. Leverage your personal and professional network
Golidilocks’ initial ambition was to provide a stainless steel cookware set that focused on the essentials—the pots and pans that everyday cooks need at home, without any of the extras to languish in their kitchen drawers. They landed on their 7-piece cookware set, by leaning on their friends, family, and extended professional network for research input, product feedback, and early support spreading the word. It’s now their best-seller.
- Conduct customer research: The co-founders combed the internet doing research on their cookware competitors and dug into popular recipe books to uncover the most important kitchen tools. But some of their most invaluable research came from surveying their friends and family to learn what tools they actually used while making everyday meals. This customer discovery process helped them narrow down their cookware bundle offering, instead of loading it with nice-to-have items.
- Solicit product feedback: After prototyping and producing the first pots and pans, their first testers were friends and family who were given products to cook with. Feedback from this early cohort of products helped Jessica and Minsuk address any problems pre-launch. When the products were ready to go live on their website, they asked those same friends and family members to leave honest reviews on the site to provide social proof of the value of the product.
- Ask for support in spreading the word: Today, Goldilocks has a robust email mailing list with thousands of subscribers and social media followers across platforms like Facebook and Instagram. But like most businesses, they started with zero. Rather than wait for word of mouth to take hold, they generated it themselves––they emailed friends, family, and colleagues with an ask: subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media. “We didn't have a gigantic list that we were launching to [and] we didn't pay for any leads prior to launch.” says Jessica.
Leveraging their network in these different ways allowed the Goldilocks team to launch with a great product and a modest following on day one. “We were making money on the first day,” says Jessica.
2. Ask for and incentivize customer reviews
Trusted reviews from satisfied customers on your website can be an effective way to convince prospective customers to buy. For Goldilocks, finding a way to get reviews was especially important: customers buy cookware sets they use for years and rarely make multiple purchases. This has made them focus intently on getting reviews from customers who do buy from them. “Customer reviews make a really big impact on the website,” says Jessica.
This insight inspired them to approach customer reviews with a two-fold strategy: ask and incentivize. “We email customers after they've purchased and then occasionally we'll also offer a refund, a small monetary amount to let customers know that you know, we'd appreciate their review,” says Jessica.
- Ask customers to leave a review of your product: Send customers a post-purchase email requesting a review. Preferably, this should be sent soon enough that they still feel inspired enough to leave a review but late enough that they’ve had a chance to actually use your product.
- Incentivize customer reviews with a refund or discount: Offer customers an incentive for leaving a review on your website. This could be a discount off their net purchase or a small refund on their previous order.
💡How to Encourage Customer Reviews
Win over prospective customers and build trust in your product by attracting more reviews on your website. Read our guide on encouraging customer reviews for additional tips on creating an automated customer review process that scales, reducing friction for reviews, and finding the right Shopify product review app for your ecommerce store.
3. Seek out customer feedback
Besides asking customers to review their product, Goldilocks also solicits general post-purchase feedback through a survey immediately after checkout. They ask customers questions about how they found their brand and about their shopping experience. This has been instrumental in helping them make customer-driven decisions.
“We started using the Enquire app so we could collect more qualitative feedback from our customers about how they were first hearing about us and also why they were choosing our product,” says Jessica. “I wish I had started collecting a little bit more of that qualitative feedback early on, because I think it's helping us understand why people are choosing us over our competitors.”
Through the surveys, Goldilocks found that customers were making a switch from non-stick to stainless steel pans. This feedback has informed their marketing efforts and how they sell their product—highlighting the “health benefits of cooking with stainless steel” as well as features like the longevity and durability of the product.
“We are so focused on just making sure that we are delivering a really high quality product to our customers [and] getting feedback from them,” says Jessica. “Then [we’re] iterating from there on what we can provide to them.”
4. Devise a PR strategy for press coverage
Golilock’s products have graced online and print publications like Vogue, Good Housekeeping, New York Magazine, The New York Times, and many more. Typically this hasn’t been because of happenstance—it’s often the result of an intentional PR strategy that includes cultivating relationships with journalists who cover cookware.
Here’s what Jessica had to say about their PR strategy at Goldilocks and her tips for other entrepreneurs looking to generate press for their products:
- Find relevant reporters in your niche: “Ensure that if you're selling teddy bears, for example, you're talking to the reporter that's specifically focused on teddy bears, and has done tons of reviews about teddy bears.”
- Cultivate relationships with journalists: “Just like you would network at work, make sure that you're networking in the industry and talking to reporters and sending them product”
- Keep in close contact: “We have press that we reach out to, and ensure that they're taking a look at our products.”
More PR Advice for Entrepreneurs
Leveraging the press to help tell your company’s story can be a powerful strategy for bringing attention to your business and helping turn readers into customers. Read these articles on the Shopify blog for more on PR advice and best practices.
Growing a DTC business on a bootstrapped budget is just one of many subjects covered in this week’s Shopify Masters episode with Jessica Sheft-Ason. Tune in to learn more about the following topics:
- Why Goldilocks avoids the “clearance crutch” and doesn’t discount their products.
- The reason they prioritized free shipping and free returns of Goldilocks products from the start (and how they’ve made the numbers work.)
- Why the Goldilocks’ co-founders decided it was important to register a trademark for their business name.
Want to share your experience on Shopify Masters? Submit your Shopify store for consideration.