You might say a cookie saved MJ Kim’s entrepreneurial world. “My money was gone,” Kim recalls of a predicament years ago. “And everything I’d worked for and dreamed of was riding on a cookie!”
It’s what Kim calls his personal horror story. His first stab at business didn’t work out as planned. “I had already screwed up two different businesses before this one,” Kim says with a smile only those who have failed their way to success will recognize. “This was my personal downtime, but I’m willing to share it with you.”
The entrepreneurial failures had left Kim dangerously short on cash. The only way to test his new venture, a special occasion fashion brand for little girls, was to take on personal debt. “I maxed out the credit card,” Kim says. “But it was the only option I had.”
Here’s where this horror story really begins to hurt. The credit card debt Kim was using to purchase samples of special occasion girls’ dresses to send to influential bloggers wasn’t generating a return. The sample dresses simply weren’t turning heads and one day Kim found himself with “one sample left.”
It was Kim’s last chance; the final sample was all he had left to win back the family and friends who had turned their backs on Kim.
“This was my last breath,” Kim remembers. “I realized this would be the last shot to prove to everyone I could make this venture work and become a successful entrepreneur.”
The situation called for something special. Something ingenious. Something sure to be noticed and loved. How about cookies?
Instead of just sending a sample dress, what if Kim were to send one of the most influential children’s fashion influencers with millions of social media followers custom made cookies in the in the shape of the dresses he wanted to sell? “I had to make something impressive,” Kim recalls thinking. “I had to be sure I got this woman’s attention.”
In the cookie Kim trusted. With his entrepreneurial destiny now contingent on a heap of chocolate and dough, Kim mailed his final sample along with the cookies and waited to see if this hail Mary would wind up being caught.
“She loved the cookies,” Kim says with a laugh. “She started posting pictures of them all over Instagram and Twitter and all of a sudden her fans became our fans.”
Suddenly, other influencers in the world of fashion also began buzzing about the high quality but affordably priced special occasion dresses for girls Kim was curating online at 3Claps — the name derived from the three claps loving parents often give when bending down to greet their little girl.
The cookies may have turned 3Claps into a raging success …
But the inspiration came from a nearly broke Kim who years earlier discovered something troubling; the outrageous prices being charged for special occasion dresses.
Bank Account Breaking Dress
Remember how it felt the first time a child depended on you? It can feel like a lot of weight on your shoulders trying to ensure a child’s special day is as special as they’re hoping it’ll be.
That’s exactly the position in which Kim found himself years ago.
A good friend’s young daughter was about to celebrate a birthday, and Kim wanted to get her a special dress to make the day and the pictures memorable. But when Kim began looking for high-quality dresses for the occasion he discovered he’d have to pay hundreds of dollars for a dress meant to make her memorable day even more special.
“These dresses may only be worn a few times before a little girl outgrows them and passes them onto someone else,” Kim says. “I was shocked that this was the case in the United States.”
Why the big price tags for little dresses?
Kim suggests larger brands that want to sell through big box stores rely on higher prices to protect themselves against last minute order cancellations; a practice he says big-box retailers sometimes engage in and can leave fashion brands holding millions of dollars in unwanted inventory.
Kim’s roots are in South Korea, and when he returned to the country he noticed something he previously hadn’t; thousands of family-run fashion and apparel makers based in South Korea that were highly skilled in creating children’s fashion.
“There are ten thousand individual children’s fashion labels in South Korea,” Kim says. “I started talking with my friends back in the U.S. who had daughters, and they all confirmed how difficult it is to find affordably priced high-quality clothing for little girls.”
In a matter of days, Kim had not only spotted a gap in the U.S. market but also a way to fill that gap with the talent that already existed in South Korea.
“It’s amazing,” Kim says emphatically. “The infrastructure is already in place in South Korea so we wanted to leverage that infrastructure globally and make it more affordable for parents to celebrate and commemorate their daughters’ special occasions.”
Occasions like birthdays, weddings, personal milestones, and more. “There are so many special occasions in a little girl’s life,” Kim says. “It didn’t seem right that celebrating those occasions with a beautiful dress should be so difficult or costly.”
At the end of the day, the cookies that Kim put on the map worked so well, 3Claps began growing quickly and the company was forced to make a dramatic change if it wanted to keep up with demand.
The Best Platform & People
One month of research. That’s how long Kim and his team spent investigating ecommerce platforms that could scale on demand and could grow with 3Claps.
The company had been using Shopify since its birth in early 2015, but the hyper growth it was now experiencing prompted Kim to look for and compare other platforms:
“We’re growing fifty-percent month over month,” Kim says. “We looked at Magento and several other platforms because we needed a platform that would allow us to deliver the customer experience our customers have come to expect.”
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The venture capitalists in South Korea and Silicon Valley pouring money into 3Claps, along with Kim’s well-known startup mentors helped persuade the company to choose Shopify Plus, an enterprise ecommerce platform for high volume merchants. The company upgraded in September of 2016 and Kim says the decision has been crucial in continuing to grow.
“Shopify Plus is the best solution for us,” Kim says. “Not only does it offer the best technology but it also has the best people.”
Since upgrading to Plus, 3Claps suggests its site is:
- Faster to load
- Easier to search
- Integrates easily with third-party applications
“The ability to easily integrate with all of the apps offered in the app store is just what a startup short on time and employees needs to move faster,” Kim says. “We know what the customer wants, and Shopify Plus allows us to deliver a great experience.”
The data suggest Kim is spot on regarding the customer experience and its impact on loyalty: 35% of all purchases in a one year period are made by repeat customers. “Our merchant success manager Cassidy Traver feels like part of our internal team and proactively fixes problems for us,” Kim says. “You don’t get this kind of support from other platforms. Not only does Shopify Plus care about its customers but cares deeply about its customers’ customers.”
Not worrying about technology or whether the platform can scale to meet demand allows Kim and his team to focus on more important issues; like calling each and every 3Claps customer. “We have a really unique relationship with our customers,” Kim says proudly. “We call every single customer to find out what they liked and disliked about their experience.”
The daily feedback results in real-time adjustments that power the aforementioned repeat purchase metrics.
The personal touch, something Kim is proud to say doesn’t scale, is evident when you inspect 3Claps’ social media presence. Scattered throughout are pictures parents have posted of their daughters wearing the company’s special occasion fashion. “It’s amazing that people send and post pictures of their daughters,” Kim says. “We never thought it would get this big but people love our dresses, and we love being a part of these happy moments and helping little girls celebrate their big moments.”
Thankful for Mistakes
Speaking of special moments … Kim and 3Claps are preparing for a future chock full of them.
Besides working with talented designers to potentially create its own line of branded fashion, the company is considering:
- Offering boys fashion
- Expanding to target children as old as 15 (up from ten)
- Eventually becoming a fashion brand catering to all children
For now, though, Kim is focused on curating the best special occasion dresses for little girls and he credits his past mistakes for helping him succeed thus far. “I tried and failed at so many things,” Kim says. “But all of those tough times have actually allowed 3Claps to grow faster because I learned so much from those mistakes and was able to avoid making them again this time.”
Not making mistakes while simultaneously making great cookies.
It’s a recipe for Kim’s success. “It’s hard to believe it was all riding on a cookie, isn’t it,” Kim asks with a laugh. “It has been amazing and I’m so happy and flattered that our success is a byproduct of helping parents and their little girls celebrate their special moments.”