How the JJ Suspenders cofounder runs his company on the side


  • Jackson Cunningham and Josh Bluman based JJ Suspenders in August of 2014; the suspenders company reached round $1.1 million in income total not too long ago.
  • Cunningham has continued working full-time jobs whereas working the company as a side hustle, presently as the head of his different startup, Tuft + Paw.
  • The cofounders meet up for half a day each three months to debate priorities and spend about two hours every week operating the company at a time.
  • They’re capable of cut back work time by delegating, outsourcing, and prioritizing natural advertising and marketing on social media and thru search engine optimisation.
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Jackson Cunningham began out in actual property, however after realizing that he most popular the advertising and marketing finish of issues greater than the actual property enterprise itself, he started fascinated about shifting careers. A fortuitous assembly sealed the deal in 2014.

“I was about to hire someone to help grow my real estate business and we ended up hitting it off,” Cunningham recalled of his present enterprise accomplice. 

He struck upon the thought of launching a suspenders company after being invited to be in a marriage occasion. 

“I found it was impossible to find a pair of suspenders that wasn’t either super cheap, skinny suspenders or very dated, traditional ‘braces’ from England,” he mentioned. “I had seen so many options for cool modern bowties, so I thought there could be potential for suspenders.” 

Over the subsequent few weeks, the entrepreneur pored over each choice he may discover and knew that his staff may make one thing higher. He decided via key phrase analysis that lots of people had been looking for suspenders every month, and in August 2014, JJ Suspenders was born (the initials coming from his first title, Jackson, and his enterprise accomplice’s first title, Josh).

Cunningham took on a number of full-time ecommerce jobs — together with as head of ecommerce for the footwear company Wiivv — to complement his revenue and help himself over the years whereas rising JJ Suspenders. 

“I remember working 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at my day job, and then continuing to work until 10 or 11 p.m. getting JJ off the ground,” he mentioned. “I was lucky — I didn’t have any other responsibilities at the time like other people may have.”

Jackson Cunningham, JJ Suspenders

Jackson Cunningham.

Jackson Cunningham


His onerous work paid off, as not too long ago, the suspenders company reached round $1.1 million in income total since its inception and has turn out to be Cunningham’s major supply of revenue. In gentle of the world pandemic, whereas company income was round $300,000 for 2019, Cunningham mentioned he is anticipating it to be roughly $100,000 because of COVID-19 — however he does anticipate it to bounce again in 2021.

“Our biggest season is spring where we make about 75% of our annual sales,” Cunningham mentioned. “Initially, we were hoping for a spike of weddings in the fall, but I doubt that will happen anymore.” 

Prior to the hit from COVID-19, Cunningham was capable of begin a brand new direct-to-consumer pet startup, Tuft + Paw, which is his present full-time position. Meanwhile, Josh spent a number of years full time as the VP of promoting at the meal supply startup Fresh Prep. 

“Both of us have had the opportunity to start new ventures or take equity positions in young companies because of the cash flow we get from JJ Suspenders,” Cunningham defined. “It has given us so much opportunity over the years.”

They’ve optimized the enterprise a lot over the years that they solely want to satisfy up for half a day each three months to debate priorities for the subsequent three months. The cofounders then choose which ones will handle the enterprise for that time period. Whoever chooses to handle the enterprise, together with dealing with financials and reviewing contractor performances, will get paid hourly — which at this level, Cunningham mentioned, requires solely about two hours per week.

“I consider myself more an ‘owner’ now than an engaged employee,” Cunningham defined.

The cofounder shared with Business Insider the two methods that helped him flip what may have been a full-time job right into a sustainable side gig.

1. Figure out what works, then discover a approach to systemize, outsource, or delegate it rapidly

Over the previous couple of years, Cunningham has centered on methods that required a number of upfront work, however would profit his enterprise in the long run. 

“As soon as I figured out a strategy that worked, I would systemize it and outsource it,” he mentioned.

One instance of this was delegating outreach to vogue bloggers to see if they’d be enthusiastic about reviewing his company’s suspenders. 

“After trying it a few times, I noticed that we would get direct sales and more traffic by doing this,” he mentioned. “I used to do it manually myself for the first few months — then eventually, I realized there were a ton of fashion bloggers and it was something we could do consistently every month.” 

As a outcome, Cunningham employed a workers member to conduct outreach, outlined the course of, and gave the worker a JJ Suspenders e mail plus entry to the company’s warehouse dashboard to have the ability to ship merchandise. 

“At the end of each month, she’d send us a spreadsheet of the bloggers she partnered with,” Cunningham defined. “So it changed an approximately 20-hour per month job into 0.5 hours per month.” 

Over the years, Cunningham defined that this delegation technique helped construct the company’s repute, model recognition, and search visitors on-line. 

He suggested considering of your enterprise as a well-oiled machine that you would be able to step out of at any level. 

“Keep replacing your own responsibilities with an automation or another person,” he mentioned. 

He added, “It’s very tempting to fix or do something yourself (and in many instances it will actually be quicker to do this the first time). But in the long term, it’s much better if you are able to delegate those tasks. Every time you are doing something, ask yourself if there’s someone else who could do it instead. Be strict with this.”

2. Prioritize long-term performs like search engine optimisation and social media

In the early days, Cunningham prioritized build up natural search visitors by creating prime quality content material. This meant producing movies, articles, and different content material, which the cofounder defined wasn’t all the time about suspenders particularly.

“Building content doesn’t have to be directly related to the exact product you sell; it can be targeting a similar customer,” he mentioned. “Figuring out good content material concepts is about determining 1. Who is your buyer? 2. What are they looking for? three. Can you create a useful resource that’s two occasions nearly as good as the present top-ranking useful resource? and four. Once you create that useful resource, are you able to get different individuals to share or speak about it? 

As an instance, Cunningham pointed to one in every of the company’s weblog posts that’s presently rating extraordinarily effectively if you seek for “forms of ties.”

“You can see how that will be focusing on a related buyer,” he mentioned.

To discover the proper key phrases to focus on, Cunningham relied on key phrase instruments on-line resembling Ahrefs and Moz. 

“Basically, you can enter a generic keyword like ‘suspenders’ and it will spit out hundreds of variations and tell you how many people are searching each month for each variation,” Cunningham mentioned. “This is a good device for constructing natural search visitors in addition to product growth. It’s my number-one device for researching potential merchandise.” 

He added that the company later found that “leather suspenders for men” was a very talked-about class, and spent a yr creating what his staff felt had been the nicest and very best quality leather-based suspenders on the market. They additionally discovered that many individuals had been looking for “cognac” or “tan” suspenders, in order that nudged them to develop their now bestselling Sierra Nevada tan suspenders.

“A lot of the keywords sound obvious in hindsight, but the keyword tools give you an objective point of view by attaching an actual number to each keyword,” Cunningham defined. 

While creating content material required a number of elbow grease and yielded no outcomes for the first yr, over time, these efforts paid off. 

“Slowly but surely, our traffic started to rise,” Cunningham mentioned.

PR outreach was one other a part of this effort.

“This has the benefit of some immediate sales — for example, [in our case,] if JJ Suspenders is featured on a wedding blog — while also building your online reputation and traffic over time,” he defined.

Cunningham emphasised the significance of crafting a “succinct, human” pitch e mail. 

“This is where most people fall way short,” he mentioned. “They dump a huge blob of text, completely impersonal and obvious that it’s a mass-emailed script.” He instructed writing as few phrases as potential, in order that it appears such as you tailor-made your message particularly for that one individual. 

“Your only goal is to get the person to respond asking for more information — you don’t need to ‘close the deal’ in the first cold email,” Cunningham mentioned.

Cunningham additionally hung out build up the company’s natural social following, which he mentioned has been a key driver of gross sales over the years. 

“No matter how much effort you put into building your social following, it will take time, so it’s important to start early,” Cunningham mentioned. The founder employed somebody on Upwork to handle posting and interesting with followers for lower than $500 monthly, and sought out to accomplice with micro-influencers from the begin. 

As one instance, the company submit with actor and musician Lane Toran (@lane_toran). 

“We sent a pair of suspenders … and he posted a photo that got around 10,000 likes, which means 10 to 20 times more people actually saw it,” Cunningham mentioned. “We got a huge boost in followers from that, and nowadays Instagram is connected with a significant portion of our revenue.” 



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