TikTok, Commerce, and Coffee

 This week on commerce tea we're taking a break from talking tea and are joined by Nick Cho, who you may know as Your Korean Dad from TikTok.

Before becoming the most wholesome TikToker on the planet, Nick was better known for the coffee shop he co-founded- Wrecking Ball Coffee. Today we are going to be talking about those two worlds and how they intersect.

That's right. TikTok, commerce, and of course- coffee.



Nick Cho making a tiny heart with his fingers. Man with round glasses wearing a camo colored hoodie.


Nick founded murky coffee in 2002, which developed to be Washington DC's premier coffeebar, winning barista competitions and recognition around the specialty coffee industry.

Over the past few years, Nicholas served as a director on the Barista Guild of America’s Executive Council, on the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Board of Directors, on the World Barista Championship Board of Directors, and as the chair of the United States Barista Championship. He was also the 2006 South East Regional Barista Champion and has served on the SCAA Standards Committee.

Nick has been a guest lecturer at the University of California Berkeley, Dartmouth College, University of California Davis, and a speaker at various events around the world including the SCA Symposium and Tamper Tantrum. He also hosted the first podcast for coffee professionals and enthusiasts at portafilter.net.

Since 2020, Nick has also become known around the world as "Your Korean Dad" with millions of followers on TikTok and other social media platforms.



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show notes.

  • [03:32] What are you drinking?
  • [03:32] Who is Nick Cho?
  • [10:16] Coffee.
  • [12:03] Brick and mortar locations
  • [13:30] Pain points and (web)site build
  • [24:08] How was lockdown managed
  • [28:14] Supply chain management
  • [30:22] Working with influencers- influencer perspective
  • [40:02] Working with influencers- brand perspective
  • [43:32] Advice from Your Korean Dad
  • [52:00] Don't hide your sold out products
  • [53:08] How to find Nick on the internet




Rhian (00:00):
This week on Commerce Tea, we're taking a break from talking tea, and are joined by Nick Cho, who you may know as your Korean dad from TikTok. Before becoming the most wholesome Tiktoker on the planet, Nick was better known for the coffee shop he co-founded, Wrecking Ball Coffee. Today, we're going to be talking about those two worlds and how they intersect. That's right, TikTok, commerce and, of course, coffee. Let's dig in.

Rhian (00:30):
Welcome to Commerce Tea, a podcast to help you succeed on Shopify. I'm Rhian.

Kelly (00:35):
I'm Kelly. Grab a mug and join us as we talk about all things commerce.

Rhian (00:45):
Hey, Kelly, how can merchants leverage customer data to drive more revenue and increase retention? How do they create personalized experiences customers love?

Kelly (00:55):
I recommend Octane AI, the leading buyer profile platform for Shopify and Shopify plus merchants.

Rhian (01:01):
How does it work?

Kelly (01:01):
Octane AI features a shop quiz, Facebook Messenger and SMS and opt-in tools. Using the shop quiz, merchants can get to know customers with interactive questions. From product recommenders to gift finders, you can learn about a customer's needs, preferences, pain points, and more. This information gets saved into buyer profiles, and you can sync your buyer profile data with your Facebook Messenger, SMS, email and ad campaigns for personalized customer journeys.

Rhian (01:27):
What kinds of returns can brands expect?

Kelly (01:29):
Brands in the shop quiz have increased email signups by 16 times, and driven a 28% increase in average order value. Facebook Messenger and SMS see 80% to 95% average open rates, and drive up to a 20% increase in revenue. Better yet, Octane AI has plans for any size business, and offers a 14-day free trial. Every plan gives you access to the shop quiz, Facebook Messenger, SMS and opt-in tools. There are also plans available where Octane AI's experts will help you set up and optimize your tools for success.

Rhian (02:01):
That sounds great. Where can merchants go to learn more?

Kelly (02:03):
You can learn more, book a demo or try it free at join.octaneai.com/commercetea. Again, that's join.octaneai.com/commercetea.

Rhian (02:15):
Well, hello, everybody. Hi, Nick.

Nick (02:18):
Hi. Hi, Rhian. Hi, Kelly.

Kelly (02:20):
Hello. Thank you so much for joining us today. We usually start these things off by saying how are you doing? Hey, Nick. How are you doing?

Nick (02:31):
I'm doing good. It's funny... Is it obnoxious to say I get podcast invitations to come on people's podcasts every day, every other day now lately? It's like an occupational hazard for being a TikTok person. I want to do all of them, and also, I can't, but when Rhian reached out, it was a no brainer, "Of course, I'm going to come on."

Kelly (02:58):
Well, we very much appreciate that, and that obviously makes us feel super special.

Rhian (03:03):
We feel very special.

Nick (03:04):
I meant that in a wholesome way, not in... I hope you appreciate we cleared my schedule out.

Kelly (03:11):
This is a very exclusive guest you have on right now.

Nick (03:15):
That's right. I didn't even tell my management team about this.

Kelly (03:20):
Well, what you're missing is the pre-conversation we had. You're not NPR, but...

Nick (03:23):
That's right. NPR wanted WAV file, 48 kilohertz, 16 bit or something like that.

Rhian (03:32):
It's so funny. For everyone who doesn't know this, when we're recording, we looked at each other on Zoom. I can see that Nick is drinking a tasty cup of assumably coffee. What are you drinking, Nick?

Nick (03:47):
This is audio, so we have to paint the picture. What I'm drinking is very interesting. Most people have never even heard of this. It's black ginseng tea. Maybe we've heard it even if you haven't tried it before, ginseng tea. There's different types of ginseng, and it's not a difference like a plant. It's the same. It's a processing thing. Red ginseng, which is the more fancy one people maybe have seen out there, is steamed and dried and steamed and dried like a few times. Black ginseng, you keep doing it like 20 times. It takes a week sometimes to make it, and it gets super concentrated. It really is black.

Nick (04:32):
If you saw this, it's like jet black. It looks like coffee. This is part of being Korean. My mom, every so often, will be like, "I have this thing. It's from Korea. It's really expensive. You should drink it." I'm like, "Is that the way this goes? It's expensive, so you should drink it." I don't know. I like it, and it's one of those immune booster things, and so during corona times, it's like, "I'll take whatever I can get."

Kelly (05:01):
I feel like it's an important thing to note right now that this is the longest we've discussed tea on Commerce Tea.

Nick (05:06):
I'm the coffee guy. So this is how this happened.

Kelly (05:13):
This is great.

Rhian (05:13):
This is perfect.

Kelly (05:14):
We even said in the intro we're not talking tea, but thrown you all for a loop.

Rhian (05:19):
I think that sounds really interesting, and I want to try it. You actually inspired me from one of your Tiktok videos to try a $30 grapes.

Nick (05:26):
Oh, you tried it.

Rhian (05:27):
Yeah, I ordered them from We.

Nick (05:29):
How were they?

Rhian (05:31):
I thought they were good. They were grapey as you said. They were grapey. I don't know if they were $30 grapey, but I was like, "Why not give it..." I also tried expensive strawberries the other day off of [inaudible 00:05:43].

Nick (05:43):
How are those?

Rhian (05:45):
Really strawberry.

Nick (05:50):
There's a whole story about the technification of food and produce in the United States and the ways that we don't get the good stuff. Like a strawberry, the good strawberry's when you bite into it, and you look in the inside, there's no white part on the inside. It's really deep red all the way through. Then you realize what you've been missing out on your whole life. Then for those who are privileged enough to travel to other countries, sometimes you go there, and then it's like, "Why is everything so good?" It's like, "Oh, because we never went through that technified food produce thing that you all did in the U.S."

Kelly (06:25):
It is really interesting when you travel, especially for some people who have allergies who can suddenly eat in other countries without any issues, but they go back the States, and suddenly, "Hello, allergies. They're back."

Rhian (06:34):
They're back. Nick, I know who you are. Kelly knows who you are, but in case people don't know who you are, please introduce yourself.

Nick (06:43):
I'm Nick Cho. Some people know me as your Korean dad. I'm doing a little head pat thing for the video. I've been on TikTok for about a year and a half. But over the past year, I've really blown up a little bit, and it's taking over my life a little bit in a good way and opening a lot of doors and creating a new career for myself. In the meantime, I'm also co-CEO and co-founder Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, with my wife Trish. We're known as a bit of a power couple in the coffee industry. We're both considered thought leaders or critics if you're more of a winner takes all kind of person.

Nick (07:22):
Do you what I'm talking about?

Rhian (07:24):

Nick (07:24):
It's like, "Oh, don't be a thought leader, because that's just supporting the status quo. Be a critic." I'm like, "Okay, I'll call myself a critic then," but that definitely has been one of my main functions, I guess, in the industry is a little truth to power, but also very nerdy on the coffee science side of things. It's been really interesting that transition. That all said, I'm so interested to be here on Commerce Tea podcast. It's definitely something that I have a lot to say about, and I think that'll be an interesting conversation at the same time. It's like nothing else I've done especially recently, so I'm so thankful for the invitation.

Kelly (08:09):
Do you want to be a critic of our podcast?

Nick (08:12):
I mentioned before we went on the air that... that we started recording, I mean. On the air, I'm so old, that I had a coffee podcast. It was the first podcast back in 2005. It was called the Portafiler podcast. I think like what you all do and a lot of people who do podcasts, it was this learn along with me format, which I think is really great. I've definitely listened to Commerce Tea, and I really appreciate all this stuff, all the gems to get dropped on [inaudible 00:08:45].

Kelly (08:45):
[crosstalk 00:08:45].

Nick (08:45):

Rhian (08:45):

Kelly (08:45):
Another spicy takes. Battle of the spicy takes.

Rhian (08:48):
All the spicy takes. I love the idea of a critic versus a thought leader, because I always feel cringey when I call myself a thought leader, but a critic, I must certainly am, so yes.

Nick (09:01):
I also think that people especially people in academia, and people who use words a lot like journalists, I think that folks get caught up a lot too much in the semantics and the words of things. That doesn't mean that. That means this. People are misusing literally or whatever. It gets oppressive in its own way. You understand what they're trying to say. Let's move on, or do you really want to parse this out and take a stand on your thing right now?

Rhian (09:34):
Kelly and I always say, "is this the hell we're going to die on? Is this where we plant our flag, and this is the hill that we're going to die on?" Most of the time, the answer is no, although there are some that I'm willing to do that.

Kelly (09:47):
No. Popups.

Rhian (09:49):
When I met you, I knew you first as the co-founder of Wrecking Ball coffee. I have done some research. You all pioneered third wave coffee from my understanding.

Nick (10:02):
My wife coined the term, and wrote the original mini manifesto sorts that spelled it out. She's credited with coining the term and the initial concepts.

Kelly (10:13):
Can you explain what that is?

Rhian (10:15):

Nick (10:16):
We talk about third wave coffee, three waves of sorts. The way I usually summarize it, first wave is about consuming coffee. It's not supposed to taste good. If you want it to taste less bad, you put milk or sugar in it. Maxwell House, your standard diner coffee, that's consuming coffee. Second wave, usually, people think about Starbucks. Second wave, I usually call it enjoying coffee era, or not necessarily era, but philosophy or generational cohort. It's not good enough that it's just functional or that it's complex. I want it to be yummy. I want it to be blended with ice, and make it a frappuccino.

Nick (11:04):
I want to put drizzle caramel sauce on it, and call it this or vanilla latte, that kind of thing. That's second wave. Third wave, I usually refer to as a coffee appreciation, sort of like wine appreciation or music appreciation. The idea there is less about pinky in the air, or snobby or more fancy. It's more this idea that if you learn more about where it comes from and the geeky side of it, that it actually enhances the consumption experience overall, which makes it a more full round thing as well as a hobby or a pastime or an interest that you can get into. People might call it connoisseurship or whatever, but again, there's snobby connotation in those situations.

Nick (11:48):
Yes, three waves. Three waves of feminism was definitely an inspiration for Trish when she originally put it all together, which in turn becomes this whole conversation about what's fourth wave coffee, things like that.

Rhian (12:03):
About Wrecking Ball Coffee, how many brick and mortar locations do you all have?

Nick (12:08):
We have two cafes that are open to the public. We have one that is obviously on hiatus right now, but is actually inside of a tech office here in a company called GitHub here in San Francisco.

Rhian (12:24):
A small company called GitHub.

Kelly (12:26):
No. No. No.

Nick (12:28):
We started working with them before they became a Microsoft subsidiary. I guess it's almost like two and a half cafes in that way. It's interesting talking to you all, and being so ecommerce focused, because for us, we've really been focused more on the thought leader side and industry leadership side of things, and less on the business side of things. This is a very timely conversation for me, because I'm almost ready to launch our new website that has definitely redesigned and optimized for a number of things that maybe we can get into.

Nick (13:13):
We haven't been focused as much on growth and such as a business because for us, just making sure that we're always telling the truth and that we're focused on really the integrity side of things has always been our priority, but we're learning to grow up a little bit as a business.

Kelly (13:30):
I'd actually love to dive into that a little bit more, because now I'm going to put my UX audit hat on here. What were the pain points that you were experiencing that ultimately decided to lead to a redesign?

Nick (13:43):
This is a really interesting topic, at least for me. Hopefully, it will be for you as well and people who are listening. There's this real interesting tension that's happening right now. I don't know, Rhian, if we've ever talked about this, but... Trish and I are craftspeople. We're considered masters of our craft worldwide. We both are invited before Corona times to travel the world and come and speak about our respective areas of expertise. She's more on the sourcing of the raw product side as well as we call it green coffee sourcing, as well as the roasting side of things. Then I'm on the brewing barista marketing side.

Nick (14:23):
Then we both talk a lot about the social issues and the macro micro economics of coffee. Over the past few years, I've been watching this D to C takeover. Ecommerce and such has not been something new, but there's definitely the first, second, third wave thing. There's definitely something that's shifted, that's changed a lot. I don't know. I'm assuming that in your alls' world that there's a whole conversation. There's some old fogies like me who are like, "D to C is just ecommerce again, or this isn't anything new folks that get off my lawn mentality of things?"

Nick (15:08):
There was a similar thing that happened in coffee where when third wave started becoming a thing, it was like, "There's no such thing. We were doing this back when I was a whippersnapper," sort of thing, literally people using the word malarkey in conversation. When I saw the Joe Biden stuff, I was like, "Oh yeah, I know that word because of Powell. He loved to use the word malarkey in reference to coffee stuff." That said... We're in an age, and I think that you all know what I'm talking about where people are showing up with SEO and a branding strategy, and really cute packaging that's very on trend.

Nick (15:51):
To me, to just put it out there, it feels like they don't care about the craft side of it. Really, it's just like a box to check, and then people like coffee, so coffee is good. We've seen people enter the coffee industry, in our space, our industry, with that type of perspective for a long time. That part's not new, but what is new is this iteration of it that this D to C play, where people are like, "Oh, we're going to do coffee this way," and the coffee doesn't seem very good, or they don't care or whatever.

Nick (16:26):
For me, it's been interesting, being someone who is always being a critic of myself, and always second guessing and checking myself more than anyone, once I start feeling that grumpy old man feelings, and look at myself in the mirror and going like, "But what do I have to learn? Do I have something to learn from these folks?" Looking at my website through a fresh set of eyes and realizing like, "Oh, this is like a brochure type." I don't know if you all have lingo for these sorts of things in your industry, but I'm looking at it realizing like, "Oh, this is like a look at me, look at me trying to tell our story, trying to be very explainey type of website," where for us, it's very much like we have the credibility.

Nick (17:14):
We're cool kind of thing, rather than articulating the value proposition for the consumer right away, which I think is something that newer D to C brands tend to be really good at. Maybe that's the only thing that they're good at, but the point being that it is something that they are good at, and that they're meeting people's needs in that way. For me, it becomes like, "Can I combine best of both worlds, have a product that fundamentally is built on decades, literally decades combined, like 50 years of experience of thought leadership in the industry between my wife and I, but then also be able to communicate it in a way, I mean, frankly, where we can play in the D to C space?"

Kelly (18:02):
That's cool, because I mean, you really do have almost two different audiences that you're building, and those who are more interested on the direct to consumer side are able to get the experience. They're looking for why you can still play up the thought leadership critic side of things as well.

Rhian (18:18):
I think especially because you have a good product... This is going to sound shady, and maybe it is shady. That one of the challenges I've noticed with DTC brands is it's a lot of flash over substance. I love DTC. I love it. I've been... You can watch videos for me five years ago being like, "I'm all in on direct to consumer," and yet now as it becomes more and more and more mainstream, it's like everything's hyper branded, but then you get it. You're like, Eh." I don't think that's good. I want it to be well branded, and then say, "Oh, and also this product is awesome," once I get it.

Nick (18:57):
I mean, here's the hot take for you all. It just came to mind. I mean, are we talking about the fast fashionization of direct to consumer?

Rhian (19:05):

Kelly (19:05):

Nick (19:06):
That's what it is, right? As much as it seems like fast fashion is something nowadays, that there's growing awareness of the problems with it, and that it's not really good for the environment and such and such that we're seeing that ethos bleed into and essentially take over the direct to consumer ecommerce world where it is like, again, the quick, "Can you get to market quickly? Do you have distribution the direct to consumer play?" Because you're getting so much more when it is direct to consumer instead of wholesale, more of the profit margin, that it feels like there's more wiggle room for things, and you can take a little bit more risks.

Nick (19:49):
In turn, it ends up being your H&M or whatever, where it's fast fashion that you're going to wear it two times, and it's going to fall apart.

Rhian (19:57):
Well, that's a good analogy actually, because I think that's something that people are struggling with. I'm not saying that Wrecking Ball is a legacy brand, necessarily, but a more established brand.

Nick (20:10):
I think legacy brand is fair.

Rhian (20:13):
I think legacy brand is fine, so it's like...

Nick (20:19):
I'm going to leave a legacy.

Rhian (20:19):
More legacy brands, I think, struggle because they've got all of this phenomenal product, and they've got this following. This is even like Cartier, right? They're moving online and doing D to C sales. That's revolutionary for a brand that just didn't sell online before. I look at you. I'm like, "You're like the Cartier of coffee." I look at what you're doing in that shift to online and with your rebrand. I'm really excited to see it. I want to look under the hood.

Nick (20:53):
I mean, it's still Shopify theme, but I think one of the first things for me becomes having this your Korean dad TikTok persona, and growing in... I guess the word is fame. More and more people know me in my face, that it really did feel like if we're doing an objective inventory of what our assets are, that to not have me and my face, my likeness on the front page, if not the first thing that pops up when you get to the website felt like that was a big miss. Sure enough, with a new website, it will be a picture of Trish and me and a roastery right at the top, and then right below it, again, in on-trend style a big frame with some type of not really quite a slogan, but some type of value proposition statement, that really, again, speaks not about us and trying to say like, "Here's who we are," but, "Here's why you should care. Here's what the benefit is to you type of thing."

Nick (21:59):
We're still working on that.

Kelly (22:02):
You're just checking all the boxes of I have to say, so...

Rhian (22:06):
We're like, "Yes. Yes. Yes." This is great.

Kelly (22:11):
I think it's a good move. One of the really important things there is focusing on the two of you upfront, because one thing we've been talking about a lot is who is behind this brand? Who are we buying from? Your Korean dad aside, knowing you're supporting smaller, local business, as opposed to Starbucks, that is a selling point, and that's something that should be celebrated.

Nick (22:39):
Right. I think that just by having our faces there... I mean, I think that you're right, and it exudes a few different things that are both conscious and subconscious or unconscious. Just the idea that putting ourselves out there, even before Korean dad stuff, we had been thinking about positioning ourselves more, because we can as almost more of a personality driven brand, a little bit more almost like a celebrity chef restaurant group type thing, instead of just letting the brand be out there, which presents its own set of challenges and such, not the least of which is like finding pictures of ourselves that we like or even getting them done.

Nick (23:22):
That's one of those things. You're like, "Oh, we'll just get a picture of ourselves." It's like, "We don't like any of these. We wouldn't use any of these," kind of thing. It gets really tricky, but this idea of faceless brand or whatever trying to personalize a little bit. But ultimately, these things are going to matter to people and connect with people in the ways that it does, depending on what you have to offer them. Again, that phrase value proposition is so, so handy in that way.

Rhian (23:53):
I have a question. It's a pivot, but it's also very much in alignment with what you are doing and what you have done. You have the two brick and mortars right now that are still open?

Nick (24:05):
Yeah. We never closed.

Rhian (24:08):
How did you handle... We have parts of the country in various stages of lockdown. You and I are both in California. We're in the exact same stage of lockdown right now. How are you continuing to handle that, and have you seen an increase in online sales? Are you funneling people to online, or what's that situation look like?

Nick (24:29):
Again, I don't say this with pride, actually, a little bit of embarrassment. We've defaulted to it. If we build it, they will come type of strategy. Again, a little bit... Again, if I'm going to be honest with myself, a little bit like we're too cool. We're too hot. We don't want to really try to sell to people. People should know kind of thing. Frankly, in that way where it's like when people find us, they tend to know what they're getting into, and so the sales cycle and such tends to be a little bit easier than when folks are really trying to reach out and do heavy marketing, and then you realize that you don't have the right product market fit.

Nick (25:13):
To get back to your question, Rhian, I think that for us, the cafe setting has always been the focal point that the online sales of our coffee has always been more of a bonus for us, the way that we've treated it. Again, I think that that's not just been a mistake, but ultimately, through 2020 and through this month, we're in February 2021, we've just been right at the line of profitability, just trying to keep things going, and so it makes a lot of sense for us to spend a little bit more energy on business development, trying to increase revenue.

Nick (25:55):
Again, I've got to confess, it's not so much that I had the luxury to not worry about it. It's just like it's been hard to balance that out with the other sides of what we're trying to put out there. In many ways, it feels like because we have this opportunity, this unique position to be thought leaders in the industry to then go and push more on the business side of things feels almost like capitalizing on that in the wrong way. That's something that we're trying to figure out still, but we didn't really have to drive people to the online.

Nick (26:37):
It just happened naturally. I mean, we've been selling more whole bean for sure. But at the same time, our cafes have been as busy as they've always been. We've been very fortunate in that way.

Kelly (26:49):
Well, for one, I'm glad you're selling online, because I can buy some.

Rhian (26:53):
Me as well. I just think everyone's looking right now, or at least I'm speaking for myself, when there's a safe experience for me, there's one coffee shop in my town. It's a micro roastery. They, I know for a fact, are safe. When you know that about a brand, you're going to keep going there, right? At least this is my experience, and [crosstalk 00:27:16].

Nick (27:17):
How do you know for a fact?

Rhian (27:18):
How do I know for a fact? One, it's owned by a scientist, so I know. It's a partnership, a life partnership and a business partnership. One of them is the scientist. They are very much like, you put your order online, and then you go in, or you just stand outside. They bring it to you, and you never... I don't know. It just feels really safe. That to me... I've now subscribed to them. I've actually subscribed my whole team to them. If I want the coffee shop experience, I'll still go there, although I just get it to my car, but still, I still feel like I'm having a moment of when you first drink a sip of coffee, and you haven't had good coffee for a while, and someone else makes it who isn't you. That's how I feel.

Nick (28:13):
That's so interesting.

Rhian (28:14):
Anyway, so throughout this whole period, I'm assuming there has been some supply chain interruptions. Is that a real assumption? Is that a false assumption?

Nick (28:26):
For certain things, for sure. For the stream of raw coffee, of green coffee, we've been okay. That hasn't really been disrupted too much. It's been more like other supplies. I mean, actually, I hadn't thought about this in a while just because we dealt with it, but the bags, that's been an issue keeping them in stock. Because we've been so bootstrapping, we haven't been able to get custom coffee bags made like the actual retail packaging. We get a stock bag and then we put labels on it to customize it. That's been good enough for us for a while. We feel like when we started Wrecking Ball...

Nick (29:07):
I had another coffee company before that, and Trish helped run other coffee companies before that as well. But when we started Wrecking Ball, we started with a white bag. White bags were not a thing, and we feel like we helped make it a thing. Well, it's a tiny... The logic in the industry was if it's white, and there's coffee, it's going to get dirty, and that's not good. But for me, it was like, "No, there's a different angle to it." But that all said, we get these white compostable bags from a company, and because so much of the consumption shift has happened to whole bean coffee and people buying mail order and hoping and making it at home instead of at cafes, that there's been a worldwide shortage of that stuff, of coffee packaging.

Nick (29:59):
It's been a bit of a challenge. If you go to your local coffee roaster, your micro roaster and their bags look different for some reason. That's probably why, because there's been a worldwide run on this stuff.

Kelly (30:10):
I'm going to completely pivot this conversation.

Rhian (30:12):
She's coming like a wrecking ball.

Kelly (30:16):
I had to. I had to.

Nick (30:18):
Why? [crosstalk 00:30:19]?

Kelly (30:19):
We often-

Nick (30:21):
I thought we were friends.

Kelly (30:22):
This is why. This is why she's my co-host. This is exactly why I have her on here, or she has me on here. I don't know. She owns the company, so I guess I'm the one who's a guest here. No. Let's talk about influencers. We often get this question from a lot of merchants who are interested in getting into influencer marketing, and you actually come at it from the other side as the influencer. How do you like to be approached by brands?

Nick (30:50):
I think that it's interesting. The way I think about anything like this is I try to distill it down to the core concept. Whether you're trying to engage an influence for influencer marketing, or you're trying to meet someone to date in a bar, it's a relationship, right? It's a relationship. In that way, it does remind me a lot of that trying to hit on someone at a bar or get someone's number or something like that, where it really ends up... Unfortunately, the real answer becomes, "Well, you have to be the right mix of familiar and innovative and novel. You can't do the same exact thing that everyone else does, or else you're going to get lost.

Nick (31:44):
But then at the same time, if you do something to off the wall, then you just seem strange, and you communicate inadvertently that, "I don't know. I don't have good... I don't demonstrate good judgment. I don't actually know how this goes, and so I'm doing something weird." I know that for me... I do talk to a lot of folks. Rhian knows I own a clubhouse. A couple other people and I host a weekly TikTok content creator like chat. It's a forum of sorts on Tuesdays, West Coast, 11:00 am TikTok content creator club with Krista Allen and Adrian Young. We end up getting into the influencer marketing conversation a little bit.

Nick (32:32):
I guess the best way in general seems to be for larger content creators like me who have millions of followers, email ends up being the best way. A lot of people assume that Instagram direct messages might be a good way. Instagram direct messages, I don't know if you all have ever talked about this, is a complete and utter mess. It's a disaster for larger accounts. I have almost 190,000 followers on Instagram, and the DM thing is completely... Comments are a complete beyond of mass. Even the DMS, it's really hard to find... You know that thing that happens with email where you see a message and then you go like, "Oh, crap, that didn't catch my eye last week when I really wish that it had."

Nick (33:20):
That type of version of FOMO happens on Instagram messenger all the time. I found that email is best in that situation. I do think that it is smart to be a little creative on your sign as a brand. Do a little bit more work. I recognize that there's just, again, this tension where people want to approach an influencer and be respectful, and like, "Well, I respect you. You know what you're doing," so I don't want to be pushy and say like, "Hey, can you put this hat on and wear these gloves and do this dance?" To be very specific, it's more like, "I want to let you do your thing, but can we talk about some brand partnership thing?"

Nick (34:03):
I feel like there's something in the middle, where maybe make a couple suggestions, but then say like, "But also," instead of but also, you know your audience best, so for any given influencer to take a look at their content, take at least five minutes to look at their content, get a couple ideas in your own head. Don't worry if they're good ideas or not. You're not just trying to propose something. It's more important that you're communicating that you've actually looked at their content, and that you took that time.

Nick (34:40):
It shows respect, and that's a great way to stick out. That'll never get old, that someone actually took the time to get to know you a little bit. It always catches my eye. That doesn't mean that it's going to be a good fit. It doesn't mean that it's going to be a good fit for them, but I think that's the best way to approach it.

Rhian (34:59):
I think that's great advice, because even... I'm not an influencer, but when I get emails, cold emails through LinkedIn, especially this is the biggest culprit, and it's like, "Hi, Rhian. I see you have this company. I can help you with x." I'm like, "I'm not even in that field." You're like, "I'm not even going to respond," as opposed to I once had an email that was so well thought out. It wasn't a service I needed, but I still responded. I still was like, "You know what, this isn't a good fit right now, but I really appreciate you taking the time to get to know my brand before you just sent me this form letter email that you've sent to 1,000 other people today?"

Kelly (35:41):
You can definitely tell when people do their research. Most of the influencer things that come up from me are more developer focused than anything else, but understanding what my area of expertise is, and what I tend to do, how I communicate to me is really important doing that research upfront that I'm not going to promote one of my competitor's technology like tech stack. I'm sorry, Wix, but I cannot.

Nick (36:08):
I also think that the ask in terms of what you're offering them, it does make a lot of sense to cut to the chase and throw out a budget. I mean, you can totally... If you want to pay someone $500, and you say like, "We're looking to pay $300 to $500 so that they automatically get the top of the range," I think is a good tactic. But that said, I wouldn't save that for later just because otherwise, it's just going to end up wasting people's time. I think that I have a harder time speaking to Instagram or other platforms, but for TikTok, one number that's been thrown around that I feel is a good starting place is $10 per 1,000 views on average.

Nick (36:58):
If you look at someone's TikTok account, and look at the last nine videos that they've done, put an average together. Again, maybe round up a little bit, especially if things go up, and things do go up and down a lot, and maybe lean toward the high side of things. I almost want to say if you take the average of their three to five most recent, more viral, the highest end view counts for those videos, and then do the math on $10 per 1,000 views average, that gives you a good starting place to think about how much they're going to want to ask for, or where you're going to end up landing.

Nick (37:47):
If it's someone who's doing a million views on average on their good TikToks, you're talking about 10K.

Kelly (37:54):
That also means that you can't be like, "I'll give you a 10% discount on the store if you tweet about me or post about me."

Nick (38:02):
I'm I'm finding more and more of my influencer friends. By the way, we can talk about the word influencer too. I'm all about embracing the term influencer. I feel like that's... We were talking about earlier people like to get... Well, influencer doesn't mean anything, or influencer, who are they influencing anyway? You're the first person to ever think of something like that. I'm all about just embracing, again, these terms, especially I think that there's a lot of thinly veiled misogyny that's built into the influencer looking at it as a pejorative.

Nick (38:36):
Anytime there's an activity that is predominantly seen as being equated with young women, lo and behold, there tends to be a lot of finger wagging, a lot of scoffing at terms and things like that, and so being a middle-aged Korean guy, I feel this obligation to be an ally in that way. That said, my influencer friends and I have been talking about how we really are starting to hate the revenue share. Here's a discount code. We'll give you 10% of all sales that are generated through your discount code stuff. Especially for TikTok, specifically, I think that that might work okay for Instagram, because it ends up just being like, "Okay, what does it hurt kind of thing?"

Nick (39:19):
But there's something about the ways that TikTok and video-based content... The ways that you're putting yourself out there, it doesn't feel good to do the revenue share thing as much. It feels a little bit like all of a sudden really, really sales pitchy, and so I wouldn't recommend that as a strategy.

Rhian (39:35):
I agree. Also, I've fully embraced the term influencer as well. I know I'm an influencer because I posted a recipe of bourbon pumpkin bread, and then the next day, somebody took a picture of the bourbon pumpkin bread they made from that recipe. That is how I am an influencer.

Nick (39:53):
Tada, influencer.

Rhian (39:57):
Tada. I don't know if this is a great question, but if you're putting your brand hat back on, and you were looking for an influencer, what type of influencer would you be looking for? I mean, I know you couldn't be your own influencer, but in-

Kelly (40:14):
I'm going to pay myself $10,000.

Rhian (40:15):
How about if you're a smaller brand? What would you be looking for in an influencer? I feel like there's a shotgun approach, like what we're talking about earlier, that depersonalization as opposed to finding that brand influencer product, I don't know, combination fit.

Nick (40:41):
That's a really hard question, because I don't... I have done some brand deals. I've made a decent amount of money already with brands, both big and small. For the life of me, I don't understand what the value proposition is for the brand that much. In other words, there's a couple different categories of this influencer marketing. One is to actually try to directly through that person's account or content drive traffic to your site or to your product, right? Again, I don't know if there's names for these within the industries, but there's that versus the more traditional just kind of like, "We want to get our brand out there more, the impressions, the CPM type attitude, that kind of philosophy."

Nick (41:26):
I understand the ladder, but I think that... Again, I think as things progressed in the influencer marketing space, that the former the conversion play, I think people are realizing that that's not a good use of people's money. I don't know. I feel like... I don't know completely how to answer that question. I feel like if you're a brand who can afford to do that type of marketing and you find... I mean, ultimately, it ends up being like... I've said this before that we talk about this phrase like product market fit. When it comes to influencer marketing, it becomes about product market, influencer, influencers, audience fit. That's as a whole, it doubles the dimension of the things that you have to take into consideration.

Nick (42:18):
It goes from that binary product market, and then all of a sudden, there's this weird cube like... You know what I mean? The graph of how it connects. It gets a lot more complicated, but that's the ask, I think. That's the job that you have to think those things through. I think that a lot of people stop at just seeing the number of followers someone has, and stops there and like, "Well, they have a million followers, so they're probably good." No, that's not how to look at it. You have to look more closely at their content. Also, especially with TikTok, you can look at their audience engagement a bit, even if they don't give you the analytics information that TikTok people get, which is very limited.

Nick (43:01):
But if you look at comments and such and see like, "What type of engagement is this person getting? I think it's worth looking at."

Kelly (43:10):
We decided that we're going to actually skip shoutouts on this episode, because we have a really important question for you. Can we get some dad advice?

Nick (43:23):
What kind of advice do you need? Do you have a question about it, or just shower us a dad advice?

Rhian (43:32):
How about some advice for entrepreneurs who are just getting started, who might have a bad day or who will definitely have a bad day, and they're like, "Did I just make a good decision becoming an entrepreneur?" What advice would you give to someone like that?

Nick (43:50):

Rhian (43:52):
I totally just put them on the spot. We just totally put them on the spot. We're like, "Hey, we need advice." No context.

Nick (43:58):
Well, the thing about your Korean dad and the kind of stuff that I put out there, it looks like dad advice, but it's not. That's the part of the trick. When I say trick, I mean that a lot of times, I think that what people think they want is, "Just tell me I'm going to have a great day today. Tell me everything's going to be great." A lot of times, the stuff that people are calling advice is not advice at all. It's just naming the pain and stress and the thing that's hard, and articulating it in a way that makes it clear that I understand what that's like, and then that's it. You know what I mean?

Nick (44:48):
I guess in that way, I just almost help myself in that way. I get heated up for myself. The entrepreneur journey is hard. It really is. In so many ways, people talk about starting a company, and people will use the, "That was my baby, like raising a child or whatever." It's not a child. I've been running my own company for... It's been 20 years now. It's not your child. It's a mutant freak monster version of yourself. It has all the most horrible... Your most horrible, shameful shortcomings and flaws and weaknesses are amplified times 100, and the things that you're good at are amplified by five or 10, less so.

Nick (45:42):
In that way, I think that there is some comfort in knowing that that's the journey that almost everyone goes through in one form or another. If they didn't go through that, then it's like they cheated, not like cheated in a dishonest way, but sometimes, people... It's like Chutes and Ladders. Sometimes you land on the thing, and it sends you up, but everyone has a different journey in that way. That's how I would talk about that.

Rhian (46:07):
I love that. Thank you so much for that advice. I think everybody needs to hear that. No matter where you're at in your entrepreneurial journey, it's just a solid reminder.

Kelly (46:19):
I'm done calling my business my baby.

Rhian (46:23):
Today was the last day.

Kelly (46:24):
My business is officially just the worst part of myself.

Nick (46:29):
It is. It is. It just reflects all those things, and then people are surprised by what their business or their company does and says, when it's like, "You know that's you, right?" It's like me sitting here just saying something terrible and being like, "Oh my gosh, my mouth is so weird. Why'd my mouth do that?" I don't know. That mouth is not who I am.

Kelly (46:55):
Every single day.

Nick (46:57):

Rhian (46:57):
Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Well, Nick, thank you so much. I feel like we could talk forever, because I enjoy talking to you so very much, but we don't have endless time, and people will not listen to us endlessly. Thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate your time.

Kelly (47:17):
I'm going to ask you one more question.

Nick (47:21):
Actually, I have a question too.

Kelly (47:23):
You go first.

Nick (47:24):
My question is... Going back to my website, one thing that I'm trying to wrestle with is that we sell coffee. One of the things that comes up in our industry sometimes is like, "Why isn't there a coffee TV show on Food Network or something like that?" My answer has always been because coffee is brown liquid. There's a reason why these goofy Bart Simpson shaped cake contests are a thing on Food Network and not coffee, because the Bart Simpson shaped cake is inherently visual in a visual medium, whereas coffee is not.

Nick (48:01):
The thing I'm struggling with our website is we don't do pictures of the coffee producers or their communities. I think that that is a dangerous place to go in terms of what we might call the white savior industrial complex way to do branding and marketing. We have a bag with the words like Ethiopia Yirgacheffe on it, and then we maybe have the beans which all look almost the same to most people. I don't know what to use as our product image when we're rotating things up from time to time.

Nick (48:40):
Do you have any thoughts on that, any ideas, or is this something that you've seen before?

Kelly (48:46):
This is definitely a common problem when it comes to selling coffee online. Honestly, seeing the bag of coffee does not bother me any... Especially, coffee is, as you said, it's not visual. I'm not choosing my coffee based on how pretty the bag is. I'd rather know what the contents tastes like. I would rather put more focus on the product's description and the tasting notes and things like that versus worrying so much about the actual visual representation of the coffee.

Rhian (49:21):
I would say yes, exactly that. I'm looking at your pillow fight espresso right now. I think you have the tasting notes in your description, but if you were to actually have almost like a little section, it's not really like... Just put it lower down in it, and maybe bold the tasting notes.

Nick (49:39):
In the image?

Rhian (49:40):
No, just in the text because the text will get crawled for SEO, where's the image unless you really write extensive, alt text isn't going to. I would put it there. I would also maybe say putting tasting notes just... You could also put tasting notes on the image right under pillow fight espresso, and then nutty period, chocolatey period, et cetera. That would be just my off the top of my head thoughts.

Kelly (50:07):
For the product description as well, I know that I prefer lighter roast coffee, for example. I don't immediately get that from just the product's descriptions because I'm less educated in coffee, so having that kind of information available to me would be very helpful, because I was going to ask you which coffee should I buy.

Nick (50:26):
I will send you some coffee, because this has been really great. That's really helpful. Trying to figure out ways to create visual assets when something's not inherently that visual thing has been a challenge, but that's really great advice. I do think that sometimes, coffee people will put the range of light and dark, and so I have been thinking that taking a photo of the beans and then putting them up actually, whereas while it doesn't mean that much, but if we frame it in the right way, it can mean just a little bit more, again, qualifying your customer kind of thing, so that's helpful. Thanks.

Kelly (51:09):
Another fun thing that I've seen occasionally on other coffee websites is including what coffee is best for which methods to prepare coffee with like, "I use an arrow press," for example, so which of these would be best for that? Which one's best for drip?

Nick (51:25):
See, I have trouble with that, because it's bullshit. When people-

Kelly (51:31):
That's okay. I don't know that's bullshit, though.

Nick (51:34):
Yeah, but I can't do bullshit. I won't do it.

Kelly (51:38):
That's the direct to consumer side you're speaking, so...

Nick (51:44):
Right. You're right.

Kelly (51:44):
You can even have for direct to consumer customers. For everyone else, this is bullshit.

Nick (51:50):
This coffee is for sexy people only.

Kelly (51:55):
That's right.

Rhian (51:56):
It's so funny. I would also... Do you sell in store brewing methods?

Nick (52:04):
I have my own. I invented one. I have a pour over dripper that I made.

Rhian (52:08):

Nick (52:08):
Rhian, did I not... I thought I was going to send you one. I guess I didn't. I'll send one to you both.

Kelly (52:15):

Rhian (52:16):
I was going to say I want to see that on your site. I'm excited to see your...

Nick (52:21):
I think it's hiding because it's sold out, but I think I have a few extra.

Rhian (52:27):
Okay, here's the thing, sold out. If a product is sold out, what should you do, Kelly?

Kelly (52:32):
Don't hide it. Put on a sign up for restock notifications page or form instead. It's still good for SEO, especially something so custom that's been invented as opposed to just another product.

Rhian (52:49):
And special.

Kelly (52:49):

Nick (52:50):
That's good advice.

Kelly (52:51):
Bonus UX audit.

Rhian (52:55):
Constantly. I'm like, "Well, let's talk about it then."

Kelly (52:56):
This is how my brain works.

Nick (53:00):
Kelly, you said you had a question, too.

Kelly (53:03):
Yes. My question is actually where can we find you on the internet? Where can our listeners find you?

Nick (53:09):
I always go to Twitter first. I'm Nick Cho on a lot of things, N-I-C-K C-H-O on Twitter. On Instagram, I'm unfortunately NickCho_. It's a sore subject for me. There's a guy who has Nick Cho on Instagram. His name isn't even Nick Cho. It's something else. It's like Nick Johnson, and he barely uses it. He decided to... He hasn't posted anything since 2014. He decided to come at me in the comments because people type Nick Cho, and they'll tag him all the time on stuff, and he-

Kelly (53:49):
Whose fault is that?

Nick (53:50):
He went to comments to complain about it. I'm like, "Just give me the name. That solves the problem. I'll even pay you a little bit of money for it." Then he went into hiding again, and he's not responding to anything.

Kelly (54:03):
You know how to fix that, right? Tell everybody to tag at Nick Cho.

Nick (54:10):
I don't think he uses Instagram that much. I think he's literally one of those people who opened it one time, and then saw all the tags and stuff and decided that you're being attack online or something like that.

Kelly (54:19):
What is this?

Nick (54:21):
I'm being doxxed.

Rhian (54:22):
He's like, "This is a nightmare" and just shut it down and never opened it up again.

Nick (54:26):
Exactly. On TikTok is your Korean dad. I think that's all the things.

Kelly (54:33):
We'll also link to Wrecking Ball Coffee.

Nick (54:37):
By the time you post this, we might have the new website up, hopefully.

Kelly (54:44):
People should reserve their judgment just in case we publish earlier.

Nick (54:47):
If you open the website, and the Wrecking Ball logo has a highlighter effect on it, that's the old one. The new one will not. The new one, like I said before, it'll have Trish and my faces on it, our tanned faces.

Kelly (55:01):
That's a good distinction then. I am excited to see your new site.

Rhian (55:05):
I'm very excited to see your new site.

Nick (55:06):
Me too.

Kelly (55:08):
Promise, we won't judge.

Nick (55:09):
Me three.

Kelly (55:13):
All right, Nick, thank you again so much for joining us today. This was an absolute blast to record. I hope that our listeners thoroughly enjoyed listening to this as we did. I enjoyed it, so I don't really care. I probably should, but...

Rhian (55:27):
We had a great time.

Kelly (55:30):
Yes. All right, thank you so much for tuning in, and thanks again to our sponsors for supporting this episode. We have a YouTube channel that we will update, I promise.

Rhian (55:39):
We should do the next teardown of Nick's new store.

Kelly (55:46):
No pressure. Well, you can find what we have actually posted on there, our friendly Shopify store teardowns At youtube.com/commercetea. If you like our podcast, please leave us a review on Apple podcast. Reviews make us really happy, and we honestly don't get enough of them, so please make us happy. You can subscribe to Commerce Tea on your favorite podcasting service. We post new episodes every Tuesday, so grab your mug and join us then. We'll see you next week.

Rhian (56:09):


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