Tipsy Elves, founded in 2011 by college friends Evan Mendelsohn and Nick Morton, is a company that specializes in the sale and manufacturing of ugly Christmas sweaters and accessories. In 2013, Tipsy Elves appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank and accepted a $100,000 offer from Robert Herjavec, in return for 10%. Robert has stated that funding Tipsy Elves was one the best deals that he has ever made on the show.
Since their first appearance on Shark Tank, Tipsy Elves has rapidly expanded and they now ship to over 200 countries, with websites specifically for the UK and Canada. They recently made a second appearance on Shark Tank in November of 2014 where Evan and Nick predicted that Tipsy Elves will make around $8 million in revenue this holiday season.
Evan Mendelsohn, one of the co-founders of Tipsy Elves, started his career as a lawyer but switched occupations due to his knowledge of SEO and a high search volume for ugly Christmas sweaters. Here is what Evan has to say about SEO:
1. You have previously mentioned your background in SEO and that you started Tipsy Elves due to a high search volume for Christmas Sweaters —How did you get started working with SEO?
I’m formally trained as a lawyer but have always been interested in internet marketing. I attended a few meetups and read a few books on the topic and really got started with trial and error. I built a few informational sites (like Day-Finder.com) that started ranking pretty well for some money keywords, and this is how I really started learning the ins and outs of SEO. When we launched Tipsy Elves, we knew that the market for Christmas sweaters was saturated and competitive, so we focused more on product development and design rather than SEO since we understood that it was only through high quality and unique products that we would be able to create a differentiated business. This has especially proven important since we’ve seen tremendous increase in SEO competition over the life of the business.
2. How do you think SEO has changed since you first started Tipsy Elves?
I’ve never believed in grey or black hat SEO and I think more so than ever, these methods are only going to get your burned in the long run or see only short-lived results. I think in many ways SEO is very straight forward these days and the companies that deserve to rank well for a particular term generally do. I don’t think Google gives fresh domains a chance to rank well the way it once used to. Rather than obsessing about how to make TipsyElves.com rank well for the term “Christmas sweaters,” we instead focus on creating unique and fun sweaters that will appeal to customers searching for Christmas sweaters online. This reduces bounce rate, increases engagement, and creates natural and organic backlinks that would be impossible to replicate through SEO strategies alone.
3. How did you prepare your website for the “Shark Tank Effect” to ensure that it did not crash due to the high volume of traffic?
During our first airing, we had a whole team of about six or seven people involved. We had a few load testing specialists, the Rackspace managed cloud support specialists, and a few hosting specialists all engaged in the setup. We also had everyone on a conference call during the update so we could make quick fixes and tweaks in real time if anything happened. For the the most recent Shark Tank update (after learning from our first airing), we had just a few developers and hosting specialists on the phone since we had kept much our setup in place since our 2013 airing.
4. What do you think is the most difficult thing about running a seasonal business, and how do you overcome those difficulties?
I think cash flow and expansion can both be difficult. Cash flow for a seasonal apparel company is tough since you are making big outflows of cash during the off season in anticipation for an upcoming season that hasn’t hit yet. It can also make staffing and growth difficult because it’s tough to grow a business when cash cycles are so irregular. No one wants to hire employees they don’t feel they can keep busy year round.
5. What is the most essential thing you have learned since launching Tipsy Elves and appearing on Shark Tank?
I think people tend to overvalue their companies and I’ve found this to especially be true with Shark Tank entrepreneurs. When we went on Shark Tank, we understood that there is tremendous value that comes with partnering with one of the “Sharks” as opposed to a passive investor. We have found this to be especially true with Robert Herjavec. We were okay taking a lower valuation than we felt we deserved in order to partner with a Shark. Our partnership with him has proved invaluable so far.
I also think having a business partner you see eye to eye with is essential. Tipsy Elves has two founders – myself and my college friend Nick Morton. We share a very similar risk tolerance and have a similar approach to issues and problems our business faces. I couldn’t imagine if we disagreed about the small stuff, since there are much larger issues to tackle on a daily business. Having someone on your level to talk through critical issues and strategies with is essential, whether that person is a business partner or a mentor.
6. What other eCommerce advice can you offer based on your experiences and success?
Some people think e-commerce is easy because it appears outwardly to be so hands off and passive compared to brick and mortar retail. However, there are thousands of things going on behind the scene with e-commerce that people don’t realize, and this list doubles if you are building a brand versus creating a dropshipping website (where you sell other brands) – hosting, development, fulfillment, customer support, sourcing, design, shipping, conversion rate optimization – and the list goes on and on. I work way longer hours now than I have ever worked before (even as an attorney at a large law firm) and I still feel like there are hundreds of more things I could tackle if time permitted.