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EPISODE 44

Harnessing SEO and Handling Unlimited Orders with Swag.com

With Jeremy Parker, co-founder and CEO of Swag.com

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Why wouldn’t someone like free swag?

That’s not a rhetorical question. In fact, Jeremy Parker has been trying to answer that question since he co-founded Swag.com in 2016. Jeremy knew that swag and other promotional items were becoming key marketing tools, and he saw an opportunity to build a business that brought those items straight to the people who needed them.

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Jeremy takes us behind the scenes of what it was like building Swag.com, including how he went from 3,000 organic site visitors in a month to more than 40,000 organic visitors. The journey to that success was paved with many hiccups, including the difficulty that comes with building an ecommerce platform from scratch, and trying to land their first big-name customer by walking around that company’s campus until they found a buyer.  But today, Swag.com can handle unlimited orders, and that first customer was a little company called Facebook. How did it happen? Learn that and more on this episode.

Main Takeaways:

  • The Snowball Effect — Attracting customers is always easier when you have a proven track record that you can point to. Therefore, it is critical to land key accounts in the early days that can be referenced in future sales conversations. Because when you can point to one successful company that works with you, other companies will follow suit. 
  • What To Know About SEO — Good SEO doesn’t happen by accident. Even though you might have great products and a thriving customer base, organic growth doesn’t happen unless you’re paying attention to your content strategy and making the necessary little tweaks that will bump you up in the search results.
  • If You Build It, They Will Come — When deciding on your product offerings, you have to get inside your customers’ heads and build up an inventory of things that people actually want. Sometimes that means you have to get your hands dirty, do some testing and try things that don’t scale before finally settling on the right blend of offerings.

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“We’re trying to build this platform as effortless on the front end to make it really, really streamlined….Every single thing we do, it has to be super painful for us to spend time developing a solution for it. Once it’s overwhelmingly painful, then we build the solution to make it easy.”

“When you think of marketing in general, you have TV commercials and everyone’s trained to now fast forward through commercials. You get a magazine, you flip through the ads, or you put your ad blocker on your computer. If you give somebody really high-quality swag, they say, “Thank you,” and it’s really a powerful tool if it’s done really right. And it has to be something that people are actually going to want to use.”

“We’re constantly listening to our customers, understanding do we have the right products at all times? Because that’s very important for us. We’re constantly testing more and more products. We’re constantly looking at data and trying to make sure we have the right mix of products that go with each other.”

“We sold to Facebook as one of our first customers. We had a friend who worked at Facebook, got us in the door. We ended up walking around Facebook’s office in New York just speaking to whoever we could to find somebody who would buy swag. Ultimately we ended up selling them a couple of t-shirts, like 100 or 200 t-shirts. We barely broke even on it. I think we made 5% margin — barely anything, but it didn’t matter to us. It was just about getting that Facebook logo. Two days later we showed up at WeWork in New York and WeWork asked us who else we work with? And we said Facebook. They assumed we probably had thousands of others because we had Swag.com brand and Facebook, but really it was just Facebook. And we got, WeWork and we continued that cycle to get five core blue chip companies. It was doing the really unscalable things like showing up, showing the products in-person, making the sale, really learning the process as much as possible, and then automating the experience and making that whole buying experience effortless.”

“We can track everyone’s abandoned carts. And then we have our SDRs calling all these abandoned carts within like 10 minutes of the time that they’d been in to make sure that there’s no experience that’s wrong. Sometimes people say, ‘The shipping is too high.’ Or, ‘It doesn’t seem I can get my in-hand date.’ … Getting in front of them right when they’re thinking about, are they going to purchase or not and they might have issues, that’s really, I think we found the most important thing for us.”

“SEO for us has been tremendously successful….We had about 3,000 organic visitors to our site in 2019 January. January of 2020, we had north of 20,000 organic visitors. And last month we had nearly 40,000 organic visitors….From the very beginning with SEO, it was about making our site compatible and making it work for Google traffic….Frankly, I’m fairly new to SEO. We started really 18 months ago and I realized our organic rankings should be a lot higher based on our brand, based on these experiences. We’re getting a quality product out there and it should be getting a lot more traffic. The first step was just analyzing our site and realizing, “Well, how do I make the site faster?”Or, “How do I make the site make more sense in terms of Google?”

“It’s about pinpointing the content that you really want to go after and saying, ‘Well, who is our buyer?’ So, really understanding who your customer is and trying to write really good content, not just throw away stuff, really good content with great subject lines that get people to read something and learn something, get real value out of it that might not be about swag related, but has to do with swag adjacent, if you will. If someone’s looking for office holiday party ideas, they might not be looking for swag, but maybe we could get swag in there somehow. Or best ways to engage your remote employees or something like that. Or what healthy snack food to have in the office, literally has nothing to do with swag, but the person who is looking for that is ultimately going to be looking for swag. And we don’t necessarily need to convert them today, at this point, we could convert them a month from now. When they are looking for swag, just be on the top of mind, re-target them and ultimately convert them. Just putting out consistency. I think in general, whether it’s SEO or whether it’s being a startup founder or whether it’s anything you do in life, I think it’s just really all about consistency and just trying to have more good days than bad days.”

“I think in everything, it always starts with the founders. Me and my co-founder, I think we’ve done really ridiculous, crazy things over the last four years to get to where we are. We’ve driven u-hauls 11 hours making deliveries at 11 o’clock at night. Having my family and my grandma, my aunts and uncles rolling t-shirts for three days straight trying to win these big deals and having no resources to do it. You’re always kind of founder, CEO and head intern all at the same time. Now, at this point we’re able to hire some of those roles that doesn’t really make sense for us to be doing at this point or frankly, people who are just a lot better at it than we are. And that’s where we’re really excited to get to.”

Bio:

Jeremy Parker is the co-founder and CEO of Swag.com, a custom promotional products eCommerce company. Prior to Swag.com, Jeremy started a creative Promotional Product Division under MV Sport and started a company with his brother David and Jesse Itzler, the Co-Founder of Marquis Jet, investor and partner in Zico Coconut Water, and owner of Atlanta Hawks. Their eCommerce platform distributed unique promotion codes through social media influencers’ Facebook and Twitter posts and was acquired by a publicly-traded company.

He graduated from Boston University in 2007, majoring in film production.

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles co-founder of mission.org. Today on the show we have Jeremy Parker, the co-founder and CEO at Swag.com. Jeremy, how’s it going?

Jeremy:

Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Stephanie:

I’m excited to talk all things swag. You saw my shirt hoodie. I was ready for you this morning. I have everything branded mission.

Jeremy:

Every everyone needs a little schtickle of swag in their life.

Stephanie:

I agree. What is the first piece of swag that you remember?

Jeremy:

Oh, wow. For myself, I’ve been going to a ridiculous number of trade shows and events over the years. Honestly the earliest swagger member was stuff that I ended up throwing away and that’s one that gave me one of the ideas for Swag.com and we wanted to make sure we only offer products that people actually want to keep. That was my main mission from the very beginning.

Stephanie:

Yeah, same here. I remember getting a bunch of stuff and throwing it away, but I remember being so excited it was back I think in 2010, it was like my first finance conference and I got like a Koozie. I was so excited because it was like the first thing that I’d ever gotten for free maybe and finances a little bit. Sticklers is about giving stuff away for free. And I look back and laugh now because I would go and collect all this stuff and it would ultimately end up being nothing that I really used.

Jeremy:

100%. From the very beginning of our business, we were thinking of swag as an amazing marketing tool if it’s used right, so obviously that’s a big caveat. And when you think of just marketing in general and you have TV commercials and everyone’s trained to now fast forward through commercials and you get a magazine, you flip through the ads, or you put your ad blocker on your computer. If you give somebody really high quality swag, they say, “Thank you.” It’s really a powerful tool if it’s done really right. And it has to be something that people are actually going to want to use. We don’t really like to push the flashiest thing or the new hottest thing. It’s all about what are people that actually use every day and get those impressions of.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I love that. Before we dive way too deep into Swag.com, I want to hear a little bit about your background because I see you’ve done a lot of things in your previous life. And I wanted to kind of hear what your journey was like before founding Swag.com.

Jeremy:

Sure. I was a documentary filmmaker actually in college, that’s why I went to school for. I actually never wanted to be a filmmaker when I went to Boston University. And I looked at the curriculum and I really wanted it to be in high school my whole … Before college life I always wanted to be a marketing guy. I was always into branding and commercials and how to tell stories through marketing. When I went to school and I looked at the syllabus of film and marketing, they really were the exact same thing, except for film taught me how to make videos. And this is right at the onset of like YouTube. I thought that would become valuable. I became like probably the first filmmaker at BU history that never actually wanted to be a filmmaker.

Jeremy:

But as I was in school for those four years, I ended up making a feature length documentary that ended up winning the audience award at the Vail Film Festival. And I was [inaudible] and I walked down and the brunch the next day after the award ceremony and half the room are these major celebrities and half the room are these struggling filmmakers. And I did kind of an internal gut check of, am I good enough? Is this what I want to do with my life? And it wasn’t, so right after I won this award, when people primarily feel like on a high, they’re like, “Oh, I’m going to become the biggest filmmaker,” my thought was, “What else am I going to do? What’s my plan? What’s really my plan? What am I good at?”

Jeremy:

And when I graduated college, I didn’t know what I was good at. I had no real experience in business or anything, but I thought maybe I should start something and just learn what I’m good at, what I enjoyed. I started a t-shirt company right out of college when I was 21, 22. And really I thought t-shirt sounds so simple, but really you’re learning manufacturing, PR, marketing, building an Ecommerce experience, all the different aspects of business, fulfillment, all these different things. And I tried to figure out what I was really good at.

Jeremy:

And over the last 10 years, I’ve done a lot of different things. I started the company with my brother and Jesse Itzler. Jesse is the co-founder of Marquis Jet, private jet company. He sold ZICO Coconut Water to Coca-Cola. He’s one of the owners of Atlanta Hawks. I started a company with him where we partnered up with different celebrity influencers and we owned their celebrity rights to Twitter and Facebook feeds before people knew how valuable it was. This was nine years ago or so.

Jeremy:

So [inaudible] a lot of celebrities, buying their rights. That company ultimately got bought by a publicly traded company. I then went on to start a social networking app that ultimately failed. Never start a social networking app, I’ll tell you that. Extremely difficult.

Stephanie:

Semi-hard.

Jeremy:

Yeah, it’s semi-hard to do. And we built an app called Vouch. That basically was about like Oprah’s favorite things democratize for everybody. You could vouch for your favorite movie and book and charity and anything you’d want to vouch for and people who follow you really get to know what you like. Really kind of making the like button with its own platform. We ended up having 100,000 plus users. We had tons of influences. It just never materialized. And after doing that for three years, I realized that the next business I want to start, it needs to be something where we made money from day one, I could give a service and a product and I started Swag.com.

Jeremy:

So, it’s been almost five years at this point with Swag. We were just named the 218 fastest growing company on the Inc. 5000. We have 5,000 companies from Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix, TikTok, Spotify buying on our site and we spent a really big portion of that building is automated experience for purchasing swag. And now it’s about, now how do you handle the distribution of swag? It’s more than just making it easy to buy. How do you get into the hands of people? And especially now with this pandemic, that’s really the most important thing.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I was just going to touch on that. I know everyone’s probably wondering with everything going on, where conferences are being obviously canceled and not coming back for a while. How are you guys handling that? Because I’m that the swag industry right now is down overall. What are you guys doing right now to not be part of that downward spiral?

Jeremy:

Yeah, that’s a 100% true. They just came up with numbers. ASI, which is like the big organization for promotional products, just came out to number that over 92% of companies in our industry are down approximately 50% in Q2 this year versus last year. So, it’s really bad. And then obviously it makes sense on the surface where you have our core buyer was like the HR manager buying for onboarding of new hires. That was one of our big purchases and no one’s hiring right now. That business goes away. And then you have the marketing teams buying for trade shows and there’s no trade shows happening, so that business goes away.

Jeremy:

Then you have the office manager buying for internal office and company culture, and no one’s in the office right now. You have all these different buyers that really are not buying swag for the normal, the typical reasons to buy swag. So like everyone in our industry, we were very nervous like what’s going to happen. And what we’ve been able to do is take this platform, our swag distribution platform, which is what we’re really pushing and what we’re really excited about. We’d been building this really amazing platform over the last two years, specifically for marketing managers. That was the initial idea of it. Allowing marketing managers to easily be able to buy swag and then send swag to the remote customers or to best leads to close sales.

Jeremy:

That was their initial intention. But obviously with this pandemic and everyone’s working remotely, it’s transitioned to office managers and HR managers really buying swag in bulk and sending it to the remote employees addresses to keep the company culture thriving, even when no one’s in the office, so much so that not only are we not one of the 92%, that’s downloading over 50% our Q2 this year was more than our Q2 of last year and July was almost double our last year July. And it was our best month ever and August is even better than that. We’re really growing frankly in a crazy time for everyone.

Stephanie:

That’s amazing. Now, I’m thinking about it. I ordered swag for our team maybe two years ago and the process, it was crazy. It was so much back and forth of like, “Here’s your quote. Oh, you want to more of this? Okay. Here’s your new quote? Here’s what the design might look like.” It was just a lot. And then of course the big box came to me and then I had to maybe ship things out individually or wait until I saw people in-person if I was being a little cheap. What does it look like now I’m thinking about reordering hoodies and shirts for our team members? But of course I would have to individually maybe shift them out again or are you guys different? What is your process look like that’s so different than others?

Jeremy:

Really simple. On our site, we have very curated selection of products. You’re not going to be overwhelmed with too many options. Say the top 25 mugs, you find a mug you could use our filtering tools, really easy to search by color or price point or your type of brands. You find the product you upload your logo. Our system will detect how many colors are in your logo, in the nearest Pantone match. We’re making sure we’re printing, Coca-Cola red and not Staples red. Once the logo is uploaded, you can maneuver the rounds, you can mark everything up. You select on your quantity price adjuster in real time and checkout. It literally takes less than three minutes to buy swag. There’s no back and forth. You can also use our instant quote tool, if you wanted to quote things out before you want to go through the design process on our site, you can upload your different variables, the quantity that you’re looking for, how many print locations, the number of colors in the print. It takes two seconds and you’re coordinating things out.

Jeremy:

So, there’s no back and forth emails, there’s no phone calls, there’s no presentation decks. It’s none of it. It’s really completely automated streamlined. And then when you’re going through the checkout flow, obviously you can input your own address, so we’ll ship everything to your office. Or if you want us to handle all the distribution for you, there’s a pink button on that shipping page that says, one is to hold your swag and inventory easily distributed, [inaudible 00:09:29]. You click on the button, you follow the onboarding and then we hold all of your swag in this online Swag closet if you will, where you can manage all of your inventory in real time. If you’re ever running low in stock, we’ll send you smart notifications to restock. If you want to send 1,000 different locations, you upload a CSV file we’ll calculate the shipping costs in real time, based on the product you selected, where they’re going.

Jeremy:

Once you pay for that, we grab those products off the shelf and we’re shipping it all over the world for you. We really streamlined the entire experience. We take it a step further if you wanted it, some companies want this, some companies don’t, but we have a whole ability to create different inventory closets for location or for a department. You can have a marketing closet versus a sales closet, versus your London office or New York office. Different people should get access to it. There’s different permission settings, approval flows, et cetera. You could really break it down by department, by location and we’re doing this with a lot of global main companies all over the world. Also, a lot of small startups who just want to use our service as a way to distribute swag.

Stephanie:

I was looking through your site and I saw products there that I haven’t seen in other swag companies. And I wanted to talk a little bit about how you guys go about picking your products because all of them seemed high quality where oftentimes, I’ll go through it and I’ll find 50 different shirts on a custom t-shirt company website. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, actually let me look through all the reviews. Let me see if they’re good. Okay. 95% of them are all bad. They all have bad reviews, bad fits, whatever.” How do you go about making sure that you only have high quality stuff there that people will actually want?

Jeremy:

That’s a great question. And that was the challenge. And it’s an ongoing challenge, always. From the very beginning, me and my co-founder, each invested $25,000 of our own money. That was our first startup budget. What be used primarily for that was buying samples. We went out and we went to different trade, shows all over the country and we bought samples from tons of different suppliers. And we saw exactly what customers typically see when they buy from sites. A lot of this stuff was really poor quality, would end up in the trash and we would never feel comfortable selling it. We were really kind of laser focused on only offering a curated selection of products that we would actually want to keep ourselves. It’s a lot of testing, it’s constant testing.

Jeremy:

How we kind of look at the whole process is we want to have the best of what’s out there. It could be the relatively inexpensive, or it could be premium. It doesn’t really matter we have to have stuff in all price points. We don’t want it to be known as the premium quality supplier. We want to be known as the quality supplier. We have a lot of products there high-end brands, Public Rec, Rowan, Top Wood Designs, Patagonia, different products like that. We also have no name products that you had never heard of, but they’re really, really quality. We have a product sourcing team that’s constantly contacting a lot of direct to consumer type of products and brands that are not traditionally found in the promotional product space and going after them as well, because we want to be known as the company that has products that no other company in our space offers.

Jeremy:

What we’ve been seeing is that a lot of companies that are okay featuring their stuff on our site or are happy to feature their stuff on our site like Bellroy Backpacks, they’ve never done it in other promotional product sites because the other sites, feel schlocky or throw away or cheap in some way. And we are really, really not that. We’re really trying to focus on quality products, stuff that people would be proud to show off, stuff that when you get it, you’re going to want to wear it every single day because that’s really the only real reason why Swag is a true benefit is that people actually want to use it.

Stephanie:

Yeah. So, now that you can’t go to trade shows and try things out, and are you still going through that process when it comes to finding new products, like just ordering things that you think are great and trying them out, or is it different than what it used to be?

Jeremy:

No, it’s exactly that. It’s less expensive in some ways and more expensive in other ways. We want to make sure we have the right products that we’re constantly spending a ton on samples. And now at this point in the business also, we’re almost five years in and we’re somewhat known in our industry. We’re the fastest growing company in the promotional product space. A lot of different, great suppliers and direct to consumer brands have heard of us, so they’re willing to send us free samples. We don’t necessarily have to pay for it anymore. But we’re just constantly sourcing more products and taking some products that maybe were cool last year, but we don’t think they’re going to be good this year and replacing it with new stuff.

Jeremy:

We don’t want to keep just adding and adding and adding because it then makes it very complicated for customers to make a decision. So, we’re constantly, always looking at our site and saying, “Is this the right blend and mix of products?” And we’re always never happy. We’re always constantly trying to improve it.

Stephanie:

Very cool. I’m guessing there’s also a bit of like a data element where you can probably look into the data and see what people are either enjoying. Do you do reviews? Do you use customer feedback to also influence the products that you choose?

Jeremy:

Yeah. 100%, yeah. After everyone places an order, we always have a survey that automatically goes on the time of delivery, very basic. It’s like one question like, “How satisfied were you?” So we can get our ranking and see how people like the products and how they turned out. If we ever get any sort of bad or not 100% amazing feedback about a product, we’ll look into it and maybe there’s something wrong, maybe the print quality wasn’t great for that order or maybe the product itself wasn’t as great as what we thought and we’ll just remove from our site. We’re constantly listening to our customers, understanding do we have the right products at all times? Because that’s very important for us. We need to have that.

Jeremy:

We’re constantly testing more and more products. And obviously we’re learning what people are adding to their cart. How many products are being … What products together go? We sometimes find that if somebody buys a tote bag, they’re going to buy other products that could fit into that tote, like smaller products. Or if they buy a backpack, other types of products are usually bought with backpacks. We’re constantly looking at data and trying to make sure we have the right mix of products that go with each other, so we can start positioning certain products. When you buy a backpack, the products that are featured as you might also like actually make sense. So, not just what we think, but what the data is telling us.

Stephanie:

I love that. Along with maybe getting personalized recommendations, depending on the product they chose, are you also personalizing the experience based on maybe what company is looking around? If a LinkedIn’s looking versus Google, maybe you know that Google always buys hoodies where LinkedIn buys coffee mugs. I don’t know. Are you personalizing it based on who’s actually browsing?

Jeremy:

At this point, we’re not. And we’ve been constantly thinking about that. The challenge is that there’s so many different buyers within companies. Even if we worked, let’s say with LinkedIn, which we do or Google, which we do, there’s so many different divisions within Google that are completely different. We’re selling to the HR team or the marketing team or the sales team or office manager, or just somebody who’s buying it for their local team. Everyone’s looking for different things. We’ve done for Google complete stuff, obviously the normal stuff of notebooks and t-shirts and sweatshirts, backpacks and water bottles. But we’ve also done custom Allbirds Sneakers. It’s hard to kind of match up always and all the buyers are necessarily not always the same.

Jeremy:

So, it’s constantly changing, but as we’re growing as our processes and we’re able to handle a lot more orders and we’re analyzing more data, I think that will be a shift in the future of really making the experience as personal as possible and that might be not making it personal at all based on companies or that might be going the opposite way and making it super, super personal. We’re kind of learning what’s the right mix at this point.

Stephanie:

So, to talk a little bit about maybe the backend, the tech stack, it seems like there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. I first wanted to start with, I saw that you were quoted saying the platform’s able to handle unlimited orders in a day. And I was wondering, is that because you guys are leveraging cloud infrastructure or have you built some kind of scaling methodology? What does that look like behind the scenes to allow you to have unlimited orders?

Jeremy:

Yes. We do work with AWS, which for the cloud obviously makes things a little bit easier, but our entire platform is fully custom. Every single aspect of our site is custom. We’re not using any other services. Obviously we’re using like Intercom live chat. We’re not going to be building our own chat, but the entire platform itself and all of our pricing is very complicated. That’s why there’s not a lot of companies in the space that could do what we do because it’s fully dynamic. Every price tasting consideration, the quantity that you’re looking to buy, how many print locations, the number of colors in the print, all these different variables that have to be in play. And now if we have 3,000 products on our site and 200 core products, they all have different pricing structures, they all have different under base charges, they all have different kinds of printing methods from screen printing, embroidery, laser engraving, all of these come with different complications.

Jeremy:

So, we really had to build our site from this place from the very beginning we couldn’t just take an out of the box solution. And frankly I would have loved to take an Ad Box solution for this because it’s been taking me five years to build [inaudible] building. We have a 15-person tech team and we’re growing, we keep developing more and more and more because it’s important. And we want to always stay one step ahead. At this point, like yesterday we did north of a 100,000 in sales all through our Ecommerce site. Things we could really scale and that same day. The day before we did 50,000 in sales and then hopefully today we do more than a 100,000 sales. Every day could literally be completely different and it’s completely the same automation. Somebody could buy 5,000 notebooks or they could buy 50 notebooks or 15 notebooks or 20,000 notebooks. And it takes the same processing ability, same exact time for checkout.

Stephanie:

Very cool. Yeah, that’s great. When you’re thinking about back in the day, starting out with a custom website versus maybe pulling something like using a platform that is already out there, how did you go about deciding that you wanted something custom and then what did that process look like? What were some of maybe the mishaps or failures along the way where you’re like, “Oh, if you guys are trying to build something custom make sure you don’t do this or that you avoid this.” What kind of learnings did you get from doing a custom?

Jeremy:

Actually the truth of the matter was in the very beginning of the business, we went all in on Shopify. And we went all in say, “You know what? Why are we building our own Ecommerce experience when somebody else could do it significantly better than us or is worked through all the kinks?” The challenges, when we start to really build a Shopify, we realize how complicated our specific industry is in terms of pricing. And there’s no really easy way. There’s no Ad Box solution that could really do it. We spent literally two and a half months building the Shopify store only to then realize, which was a big mistake on our part, that the pricing was not able to be done.

Jeremy:

We had to really scrap it and start from scratch. And we realized it’s going to take us a lot longer to get where we want to be, but we’re still not where we want to be, but it makes the most sense. It’s really the only way to streamline it as much as we want to streamline it. Now, the typical process of promotional products, as you mentioned before, it’s a lot about phone calls. It’s back and forth, this quote versus that quote. You change one little element, the whole quote changes. We didn’t want to deal with that. We wanted customers to be able to do it themselves, no talking to anybody. If you don’t want it, obviously if you want to call us, we love to hear from you, but you don’t have to. You could do every single thing yourself and we want it to make that effortless.

Jeremy:

You want to hold things in inventory, click on the button and now it’s all in inventory. You want to distribute swag, upload this and it ships out. Every single thing on our site, we wanted to make it as easy as possible and historically, and traditionally it’s not been easy at all. And it makes sense because of how custom the product offering is.

Stephanie:

If you would have, maybe on day one started out with like, here’s the kind of things that we’re most interested in. Did you know that you wanted this custom pricing option and did you go and kind of look at different platforms to see if they could do that? Or did you just jump right in?

Jeremy:

Yeah. From the very beginning, honestly, we spent a year before we built any platform. Our initial idea was we don’t really know the platform to build, we knew that the industry needed to be shaken up a little bit. We knew how old and fragmented the industry was, but frankly, I think most entrepreneurs could agree. You honestly know what the right answer is. Most people don’t, they think they do, they don’t. From the very beginning, our idea was let’s just learn as much as possible. Let’s reach out to as many office managers, HR managers, people that we know within industries by swag. And let’s ask them what they like and hate about the current buying experience that they’re having. And we would show up at meetings and we would literally say, “What sites you buy from?” And they would give us some site names and we would look over their shoulder really.

Jeremy:

This is what we did for the first year. We spoke to over 200 different office managers, HR-related buyers. And some ended up buying became customers of ours for many years and some moved on to other things, but just to see how they purchase swag was a big tell for us, really what the process was. Looking at their email back and forth 40, 50 emails with a rep just didn’t make any sense to us. We kept kind of thinking. That was kind of the first six months of our business. The second six months of our business, the remainder of the year was about, “Well, let’s do it the old school way. Let’s just launch a landing page. Let’s go out there. Let’s be a traveling salesman and try to sell some stuff.” And we really learned how painful it is. It’s like it takes forever to quote, there’s a lot of manual labor.

Jeremy:

Every single thing that was painful for us, we then figured out a solution to automate it. And we kept just chipping away at it.

Stephanie:

That’s so important. I think it’s Paul Graham who said do things that don’t scale. And that’s how you actually learn, like what’s working, what’s not working and what to build going forward. That’s really smart.

Jeremy:

Exactly right. And that’s the same thing with even getting our customers. Now, I haven’t made a sales call in four years, but in the beginning I was doing everything. Me and that co-founder, Josh, we would show up at offices and try to sell. And we sold to Facebook as one of our first customers. First customer, really actually. We had a friend who worked at Facebook, got us in the door. We ended up walking around Facebook’s office in New York just speaking to whoever we could to see somebody who would buy swag. Ultimately ended up selling them a couple of t-shirts, like 100 or 200 t-shirts. We barely broke even on it. I think we made like 5% margin, like barely anything, but didn’t matter to us. It was just about getting that Facebook logo. I remember two days later we showed up at WeWork in New York and WeWork asked us who else we work with? And we said Facebook.

Jeremy:

They assumed we probably had thousands of others because we had Swag.com brand and Facebook, but really it was just Facebook. And we got, WeWork and we continued that cycle to get that really five core blue chip companies. It was doing the really unscalable things like showing up, showing the products in-person, making the sale, really learning the process as much as possible, and then automating the experience and making that whole buying experience effortless. Now, people don’t need to speak to anyone if you don’t want to, that’s really what our main goal was.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Yeah. I think we’ve had a couple people on the show. Who’ve talked about just finding that first customer that you can kind of leverage as the brand name and then just pointing to them and be like, “Yeah, they work with us. Like you should too.” So I think that’s a good lesson for a lot of companies starting up. If you find that one brand name and you can reference them, it’ll probably help with all future sales.

Jeremy:

100%. It’s all about social proof, at least what we have learned, it’s everything. People are not going to work with you if they don’t feel confident. To build up the confidence, obviously you have to have a great platform, but that doesn’t happen overnight. That takes time. You have to have a great brand and a great design, make people feel confident, but other ways are who else you’ve worked with? A lot of our shirts and what’s big reason why we’ve been able to scale with very little money is a lot of our t-shirts and apparel has a Swag.com in your label. We do our own products.

Jeremy:

When people [inaudible] t-shirts that’s 5,000 people knowing about Swag.com. They see the t-shirts, they see the quality, they feel how great it is, they see the print, they have the instant social proof that Facebook uses them or Google uses them, whoever is getting the product and they see Swag.com and it drives a ton of traffic to us. That only really works if the products are great as well. Obviously people are getting really poor quality and everything’s says, “Swag.com,” no one will use us. It’d be opposite [inaudible 00:25:52]. Every single thing really has to work hand-to-hand

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s a really.

Jeremy:

Yeah. We were thinking about it initially because I wear jeans a lot. I was thinking like I buy one pair of jeans for like three years. It’s kind of looks cooler, the more you wear jeans, it gets more faded. But with Swag.com or swag in general, people buy stuff for a specific reason. You’re buying it to give it away and then you need more stuff. If they’re buying it to give it away, we have to make the experience of giving away products that other people actually want and see. And then that new person, that person who just bought that 5,000 t-shirts now they need more stuff for the next event. It’s a completely different kind of business. And we just try to figure out, we have to make sure that our logo is everywhere that it can be, obviously within reason.

Stephanie:

I love that. Let’s talk a little bit about the backend when it comes to warehousing your inventory. How does it work behind the scenes? If you’re able to allow someone to essentially have their cart saved and then say, “Okay, ship this to one person in California and then ship this to one person in Florida.” What does the backend look like to make those logistics work?

Jeremy:

Yeah. Upfront in terms of the actual buying swag and bulk, we have integrations with different kind of the best vendors in each industry. So, like the best one for drink wear, best one water bottles and obviously we have a big selection of product. When somebody buys 1,000 mugs or something on our site, it’s automatically connects to our supplier network that produces the highest quality mug with their logo and then drop ships it directly to the customer’s office or wherever. But if they’re holding stuff in inventory, it ships into our 3PL. We have four strategic locations all throughout the US and we’re adding more locations in Canada and Europe right now to make it cheaper for global distribution. Once the products are in our fulfillment center, then they log into the, my inventory portal and they see all of their inventory in real time.

Jeremy:

So, if you’re ever running low in stock, we’ll send you smart notifications to restock. They can easily upload their CSV file. We’ll calculate the shipping costs in real time. They pay for it. We grab it off the shelves and we’re shipping it to 1,000 different locations. We also have this feature called the Swag Giveaway. Oftentimes, especially now, people don’t necessarily know where their remote employees are living. Say you went to a trade show. God willing the world opens up, we have trade shows again, and people go to your booth and they give you their email address. You’ll know what t-shirt size they are. You’ll know where they live, but you still might want to engage with them. We built the Swag Giveaway feature, where you can create a fully recipient branded landing page. Let’s imagine Google just uploads their logo and their colors.

Jeremy:

And they could easily blast out to a CSV file of just having the person’s first name and email, that recipient will click on the link. It will be branded with Google, they’ll select their t-shirt size or they’ll select their mug, or water bottle, they’ll be able to choose which product they want. Input their address, submit. It all speaks to our system. And now we have the address that we can distribute. We’re building all of these tools to allow people to distribute if they’re shipping to one address, thousands of addresses, or even if they don’t have the recipients addresses, but easy way to capture that and also distribute.

Stephanie:

Wow, that’s a lot going on behind the scenes.

Jeremy:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

How are you thinking about the front end part of the website because to me when you’re ordering swag or something where you really want to see the details of like, is that embroidery right, are the colors right and also just like making sure that you have people who are converting and not just sitting on maybe their design or their shopping cart? How are you moving people along through the website and what kind of best practices have you seen when setting up the front end user interface?

Jeremy:

Good question. It’s probably the most challenging thing for our business because it is custom and everyone is somewhat concerned about, is this going to come out perfect, is it could be the right logo color, is it going to be the right positioning. What we’ve learned is obviously we built our patent technologies is one of the first things we built to detect the number of colors and the nearest panto match in your logo when you’re uploading it. So, to make people feel really safe, they’re going to get their exact color. Now, obviously it can never be 100% because web colors are not the same as Pantone colors that are used for printing and t-shirts, but it really gets to the closest match. And if you want, and if you know your Pantone, which a lot of companies do, it allows them to easily input their exact Pantone, so it overrides everything and it makes it really easy.

Jeremy:

Obviously they can maneuver their logo, they can mock it up. And what we say is, after you place your order, we’re always going to create for them a virtual production mock-up to approve before we ever start to print. We’ll never go into production until they give us the green light. Really customers should feel super safe that even if they upload their logo and they’re not sure is this straight or is this exactly the right position. It doesn’t really matter. We’re always going to create that mock-up and they can make as many revisions as they want before we start with the print. That makes it really easy. And in terms of our distribution, obviously they can always just add this stuff to inventory and just easily distribute. The process on the front end, we try to make it really effortless and streamlined.

Jeremy:

It’s taken us four years. We’re constantly adding more and more features to make that experience better. We’re launching a feature very soon called the Company Art Folder. Imagine you bought something and 20 other people in your company buys different things. It should lump all of your artwork together as a company art folder, so you never have to really hunt down the designer to make sure you have the right file or is this the right logo, is this the approved logo for swag? You can always, when you’re uploading your logos, select the pre-approved designs that have been used and purchased by other people in your company, so you feel more safe. Or unlike my orders page, let’s say Jennifer on your team is out sick one day, you can log into your account, you’ll see all of your orders and then there’s another tab that says company orders. You see everyone else in your company what they purchased, so you could easily reorder what somebody else ordered and easily subtract and make sure you’re using the exact same artwork.

Jeremy:

We’re trying to build this platform as effortless on the front end to make it really, really streamlined. And in terms of getting people through the funnel, what we’ve seen is our platform really does work well. I think that the more simple features that really solve a problem. And as you mentioned before, Paul said, “Do things unscalable before you scale it.” Every single thing we do, it has to be super painful for us, for us to spend time developing a solution for it. Once it’s overwhelmingly painful, then we build the solution to make it easy.

Jeremy:

Then obviously we see their abandoned carts. We can track everyone’s abandoned carts. And then we have our SDRs calling all these abandoned carts within like 10 minutes of the time that they’d been in to make sure that there’s no experience that’s wrong. Sometimes people say, “The shipping is too high.” Or, “It doesn’t seem I can get in my in hand date.” There’s certain things that we could actually help out and maneuver possible. And if it’s not possible, we’ll let the customer know it’s not possible. But getting in front of them right when they’re thinking about, are they going to purchase or not and they might have issues, that’s really, I think we found the most important thing for us.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s really smart. Have you seen people pick up their phone right away or have you experimented with texting instead?

Jeremy:

We haven’t done texting and I’ve been researching some companies and I think it’s actually a really good idea. We’ve seen a lot of people if they’re actively looking on our site or they’ve just left in 10 minutes, they’re likely to pick up their phone. Even when people fill out a form on our site and we have a lot of … Obviously our core business up until this point was Ecommerce experience adding it to distribution, but we have a whole ‘nother business where people could buy swag boxes in bulk, giving a really great unboxing experience for new hires or engaging with your best clients. That’s fully custom branded boxes inside the boxes, as custom notebook and water bottle and pen and custom note card, crinkle paper. We’ve allowed people to custom build those boxes effortlessly through our site.

Jeremy:

All you have to do is upload your logo, the same process as buying and adding to your cart, you click on the button that says, “Build a box,” and it lumps, all those products together as a box listing. It makes the entire experience super simple. And we’ve seen with those bigger box orders. A lot of times it might be like a two to three week sales cycle. When Ecommerce could be like they land on a site and they check out that same day, boxes, they’re fairly larger sizes. Typically, they’re usually using our distribution platform for distributing because no one has room in their office for boxes or wants to boxing up themselves. So, they actively use our distribution platform for that. And that cycle takes a little longer. Getting on the phone with them, really talking through the challenges or what their issues are and what their questions are, we find is really, really important.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s really great. Oftentimes when you’re talking or this can happen, when you’re talking to a customer, they don’t always tell you exactly what they need. One example you gave there was, you want to be able to go into a library where your logos are there, which is huge. I remember ordering swag back in the day at other companies and it was always kind of a review and escalation process of like, “Is this the most recent logo? Are these the right colors? Is this our team logo?” Okay. How would you find out something like that that maybe a customer wouldn’t know to tell you, but it would just make it easier if they did have that there? How do you go about getting in your customer’s head?

Jeremy:

Yeah. I think it’s just like just being their teammate. We like to think of in all of our customer success likes to think of it, is that we’re an extension of your brand. Obviously if you’re buying swag on our site, it has to really be the quality, but it’s only going to be quality and only what you like, if the logo is right, the positioning is right, it’s exactly what you want. Especially dealing with bigger orders, we like to jump on a call with customers, have a conversation, try to understand what the use case for their swag is, what their budget is, what their timeline is who the audience is. And we like to suggest ideas and obviously customers can go on the site and not talk to us if they want to talk to us and use our filtering tools and our search tools and just our browsable experience and find what they want.

Jeremy:

But if they want our help, we want to be there to help them. I think it’s just constantly trying to understand, the reason for them buying swag and with the use cases. And then we constantly offer different suggested items that we know that we work with that other companies in the similar space have worked with. And we give other solutions for them to kind of play with. And I think it just gives a great experience where they could do their own kind of sourcing and they can also use us as a guiding tool to find them exactly what they’re looking for.

Stephanie:

When you’re thinking about getting new customers, what kind of acquisition channels are you using or finding success in right now to get these large companies using you guys?

Jeremy:

Yeah. I like to think about marketing and it’s not always going to be the same traction channel is always going to work. Now, from the very beginning, we were doing a lot more Google ads because we wanted to get paid back fairly quickly and we’ve realized early on, at least for our business prospecting on Facebook is a little more challenging when you’re dealing with B2B buyers. But for Google, when is looking specifically for swag it’s quite challenging [inaudible] Google, obviously it’s very expensive. In the beginning it maybe makes sense to do Google just to get those early wins and get the credibility. But then maybe you kind of shift away from Google and you do some more SEO. SEO for us has been tremendously successful. We started really diving deep into SEO about 18 months ago, just to put things in perspective.

Jeremy:

Last January, we had about 3,000 organic visitors to our site, in 2019 January. January of 2020, we had North of 20,000 organic visitors. And last month we had nearly 40,000 organic visitors. Really growing the base in terms of organic, putting out tons of content, always it’s content that maybe has stuff to do with swag buyer like buying swag or maybe just has to do with the audience, HR managers, the best HR solution tools. Doesn’t necessarily have to be about swag, but it’s a valid topic related to the buyer. And then ultimately when the buyer comes on our site, reads about it and then is going to Facebook or Google or any of their other properties, we can re-target them. That’s been a really great driving force for us, but also partnerships.

Jeremy:

There’s a lot of different companies in our space that don’t necessarily sell swag. They sell other products to the office manager or other products to the HR manager, that we could really parlay and work on. We could promote them to our audience. They could promote us to their audience. We’ve been trying a lot of different things, affiliate marketing, a lot of different stuff, but usually it’s always the one or two kind of traction channels that are the most beneficial at that time. And right now it’s SEO [inaudible] hands down has been the best driver of customers for us.

Stephanie:

Okay. I want to dive into that a bit then, because I hear people are always talking about SEO. There’s so many SEO agency, they’ll do all this SEO stuff for you. I think there’s like tons of bar jokes, maybe not bar jokes. Maybe just be regular jokes about SEO agencies and consultants and stuff. I want to dive into, what are you guys actually doing when it comes to your SEO strategy because it sounds like it’s been successful? How are you finding out what topics to write about? What are you seeing work? Give me all the nitty-gritty on what you all are doing behind the scenes.

Jeremy:

Yeah. I think from the very beginning with SEO, it was about making our site compatible and making it work for Google traffic. Our site, at the very beginning … I’m a branding person. My background is in branding and user experience design for the customer. There’s a lot of things that are behind the scenes that Google looks at, that the customers don’t even realize. And frankly, it doesn’t even mean anything to the customers. I had to learn that. I didn’t know anything about that. Frankly, I’m fairly new to SEO. We started really 18 months ago and I realized our organic rankings should be a lot higher based on our brand, based on these experience. We’re getting a quality product out there and it should be getting a lot more traffic. The first step was just analyzing our site and realizing, “Well, how do I make the site faster?”

Jeremy:

Or, “How do I make the site make more sense in terms of Google?” So for example, on every single product page, 18 months ago, we had no other associated products below the fold. Now, most people don’t necessarily look at those below the product the fold because they’re trying to upload their logo, mock-up things. There’s a lot of stuff for them to do on the product builder page to add to cart. But you need to add those other products below the fold, so that in terms of Google, they see that that product listing is connected to four other products or so, right. There’s all these small kind of tweaks or theoretically, you want to keep adding and making your site feel refreshed. You’re not going to be refreshing your homepage every single two weeks. It doesn’t happen.

Jeremy:

You’re not going to be redesigning your product builder page every two weeks or your browsable experience every two weeks. What you can do, is you can maybe put like a blog post in your footer, make it like the latest blog posts. Every time you update your blog, every day or every two days, your site is getting refresh constantly. There’s all these kinds of small kind of tweak things that you could do in terms of overall site. And then it’s about kind of pinpointing the content that you really want to go after and saying, “Well, who is our buyer?” So, really understanding who your customer is and trying to write really good content, not just like throw away stuff, really good content with great subject lines that get people to read something and learn something, get real value out of it that might not be about swag related, but has to do with swag adjacent, if you will.

Jeremy:

If someone’s looking for office holiday party ideas. They might not be looking for swag, but maybe we could get swag in there somehow. Or best ways to engage your remote employees or something like that. Or what healthy snack food to have in the office, literally has nothing to do with swag, but the person who is looking for that is ultimately going to be looking for swag. And we don’t necessarily need to convert them today, at this point, we could convert them a month from now. When they are looking for swag, just be on the top of mind, re-target them and ultimately convert them. Just putting out consistency. I think in general, whether it’s SEO or whether it’s being a startup founder or whether it’s anything you do in life, I think it’s just really all about consistency and just trying to have more good days than bad days.

Jeremy:

Constantly just trying to keep pushing as hard as you can because at the end of the day, you’re going to get to a much better place if you’re consistent with it, you keep pushing forward and no small setbacks really affect you.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I completely agree. Are you all doing the content creation and things like that in-house still? Or have you hired that out? At what point would you say like, “Oh, it’s about time to hire this out,” to have someone else work on it instead of maybe an entrepreneur doing it all themselves?

Jeremy:

So, initially it was all me writing the content, then it became use some freelancers and now it’s becoming, now we have the resources we’re hiring actually this week, a full-time writer for our own team to be writing content and doing all of the stuff that we want to do. I think in everything, it always starts with the founders. Me and my co-founder, I think we’ve done really ridiculous, crazy things over the last four years to get to where we are. We’ve driven u-hauls 11 hours making deliveries at 11 o’clock at night. Having my family and my grandma, my aunts and uncles rolling t-shirts for three days straight trying to win these big deals and having no resources to do it. You’re always kind of founder, CEO and head intern all at the same time. Now, at this point we’re able to hire some of those roles that doesn’t really make sense for us to be doing at this point or frankly, people who are just a lot better at it than we are. And that’s where we’re really excited to get to.

Stephanie:

I love that. I’m sure your grandma thanks you. Poor grandma, she’s a real VIP over there, rolling t-shirts.

Jeremy:

Yeah. She was making fun that she hurt her back and that’s why her back is messed up because of the [inaudible 00:43:33].

Stephanie:

All because of you, Jeremy. Jeez. That’s great. Before we move into a lightning round, is there anything that you wanted to cover today that I missed?

Jeremy:

No, no, this has been great.

Stephanie:

Okay, cool. Yeah, it has been a blast. All right. So, let’s move onto the lightning round brought to you by our friends at Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I’m going to throw a question your way and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready, Jeremy?

Jeremy:

I’m ready for it.

Stephanie:

All right. What’s up next on your Netflix queue?

Jeremy:

Oh, cool. I started watching … I was in the Hamptons this weekend.

Stephanie:

Fancy.

Jeremy:

I know, very fancy. My mother-in-law’s in town and she wanted to go out. [inaudible] and there’s all these ads all over the place for million dollar beach house or something. I think I started watching some real estate show.

Stephanie:

There you go. I saw that also on Netflix. I was watching Selling Sunset, though I need to finish that one first.

Jeremy:

That’s fine.

Stephanie:

All right. What is the best promotional item you’ve ever received? And what’s the worst one?

Jeremy:

Well, okay. The worst one is obviously easy. It’s all about the schlocky pens that don’t write.

Stephanie:

Oh my gosh, yes.

Jeremy:

Pop socket, lighter. There’s some of these things, stuff when they do the hybrid stuff, it’s just kind of ridiculous. Like the highlighter that also acts as a compass. It’s like, “No, that’s not the right thing.” So, a lot of those. And a lot of people trying to sell me on selling their stuff and it’s not good.

Stephanie:

You’re like, “No, this is no.”

Jeremy:

Yeah. I don’t want to be mean to anybody. I just say, “I don’t think it’s the right fit,” or something like that, but it’s not good. And the best stuff I think is honestly anything really you’re going to keep it. A really high quality water bottle, something you’re going to see every single day it’s could be on your desk and you’re going to get those impressions. I’m really proud of that, but obviously we’ve done bicycles for companies. We made fully custom bicycles. A company came to us and they had their whole executive team. They’re very into health. They want to do something a little bit different, unique. They have a campus. We create a really cool custom, fully custom logo, colors, everything bicycles. That was a really cool project to work on. And obviously we’ve done really cool backpacks. We did a backpack for Facebook, which I thought was really cool where the logo was nowhere on the outside.

Jeremy:

[inaudible] was we wanted to make the product so kind of premium. These are like very nice backpacks, that it didn’t like scream Facebook. No one even know about it, except for the people who are wearing it. So, it was black-on-black logo on the inside of the backpack, so like when you open, only the people who are wearing it, see it. That’s, I think is very important. I knew this was going to happen because frankly I started getting a sense that socks were going to become very popular. We sell [inaudible] socks and clearly socks is very … No one really sees it, but it’s all about the person who’s putting on the socks, is wearing it, who were seeing your logo. It starts to feel that kind of connection to your brand and eventually becomes that brand evangelist. It’s all about that internal.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s awesome. What is a new Ecommerce tool that you’re trying out that you’re loving right now?

Jeremy:

New Ecommerce tool? We’re using a company called [Tend 00:46:36]. It’s very early in it, but you’re able to kind of track all the different people who are coming to your site without them inputting real information, which I think is kind of spooky, but kind of cool, just to see who’s checking what.

Stephanie:

Cool.

Jeremy:

For me, it’s kind of the core stuff. It’s the Intercom, it’s the HubSpot, it’s just the marketing automation, streamlining things. And there’s two different things, obviously with Intercom, which is our real life customer success. People are always here to help and jumping on the phone call. Then you have the HubSpot, which is really automating the experience. Having both sides for our type of businesses is very important.

Stephanie:

Great. All right. The last one, a little bit harder. What one thing will have the biggest impact on Ecommerce in the next year?

Jeremy:

Wow.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Jeremy:

That’s a good question. I’m still laser focused on swag. I don’t necessarily always think about the broader industry as a whole. I think for swag, I think it’s easy. I think it is swag distribution. Everyone’s working remotely. I don’t see people getting back into the office anytime soon. Even if they do, it’s going to be somewhat of a new normal, maybe not every day. People are still going to be able to need to engage with the remote employees or the best customers. And who’s going to want to fly across the country, maybe to that trade show. They might want to do things a little more remote and automated. For Swag, that’s where we’re going and we’re going to be automating the distribution of Swag. I think that’s our next phase.

Jeremy:

Or somebody’s one year anniversary, send them automatically Swag in the mail. Or somebody’s had a baby, send them Happy Mother’s Day or Happy Father’s Day type of swag in the mail. So, really automating different life activities where you want swag.

Stephanie:

Awesome. Love it. All right, Jeremy. This has been a blast. Where can people find out more about you and Swag.com?

Jeremy:

Yeah. You can obviously reach out to me on LinkedIn Jeremy Parker, and obviously come visit us at Swag.com. That’s S-W-A-G.com and we would love to work with you on your next order.

Stephanie:

Awesome. Thanks so much for joining.

Jeremy:

Thank you so much for having me, guys.

 

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