[00:01:29] A.J. Lawrence: Now he’s family actually started- his grandfather started the Robb Report and he was part of the team that then sold the Robb Report a few years back. So it’s gonna be really interesting to talk about what he learned, that experience. Many of us in the audience know the Robb Report and used it as very aspirational material, but it is truly a well-put and very interesting, amazing editorial.
[00:02:00] Not just talking about the billion thread count object of luxury du jour, but really in sort of the what Daniel has brought in to Vices.com really shows his understanding of what made Robb Reports so amazing. So we’re gonna get you in kind of talking to that passion that he brings to it and the importance of passion, especially in you know last year was such a huge supply chain issue with any type of product-led company, and just the need to continue feeding that passion and focusing on growing that passion for himself as he had to consistently deal with issues and problems.
[00:02:40] If he didn’t keep that passion alive, it was gonna be too much. So that’s a really interesting thing as we look to our own situation and all the difficulties we have to deal with ongoing as entrepreneurs. So kind of constantly feeding sort of that reason of why we do this and turn into passion.
[00:02:59] Now, he’s also gonna talk about building the why with your team. And it’s really kind of important because as you look at Vices.com, it is a very highly curated, highly select viewpoint of really- luxury goods is not the right terminology- but an experience, a type of product experience.
[00:03:24] Very unique products of boutiques, small family businesses, things that you just are not gonna find in your run of mill, and it’s so cool. But he talks about the need to make sure that that why permeates into his team because his team is the ones going out finding the people, building the relationships, finding the right type of viewpoint.
[00:03:50] So if he’s not focused in developing this why, then his team can’t do that. So, he talks about like a good quote from him is bringing on people that can really fly on their own and bring strength and ideas that you don’t have and fit into that why. So it’s kinda cool to think about as we grow our own businesses, how to bring in people who can fly on their own, love that phrase, and make it into their own.
[00:04:16] So look, I love what Daniel’s doing with Vices.com. I think you’re really gonna enjoy this conversation I recorded with him, so enjoy the conversation and talk to you soon.
[00:04:30] Hello Daniel. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
[00:04:32] Daniel Curtis: Oh, thank you for having me. I’m really happy to be here and having this conversation.
[00:04:36] A.J. Lawrence: I’m glad you’re even awake because I think when I had my third child, about a month in, I was barely functioning. So you’re doing much better than I ever did back in the day.
[00:04:46] Daniel Curtis: Well, I’m definitely running high on adrenaline, coffee, but yeah, brand new baby at home and he’s got an older brother and older sister, so life has been full to say the least.
[00:04:59] A.J. Lawrence: Yes, full is one way of saying that. Well, with such a full life, where do you see yourself as an entrepreneur these days?
[00:05:09] Daniel Curtis: So I’m now in, I think year seven of having spun out of family business and stepping out truly on my own. I’ve seen myself still in the early stages of my own entrepreneurial journey, but I’ve definitely had the happy pleasure of learning a lot of lessons the hard way already. And I think, I’ve now basically figured out that I liked being an entrepreneur and that I would never have it any other way.
[00:05:39] It’s been a pretty incredible journey so far. And I have big dreams and big plans of where I wanna take my current business and the other things that I’d love to launch in the future. So I’m in some ways I’m just getting started, but I’m also very proud of what we’ve accomplished with what we’re doing now.
[00:05:56] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. I was just mentioning to the audience before you joined, how fun they are. I mean, my first package, I got this beautiful Australian whisky that I was really kind of amazed. I was like, ok. I’ve lived in Spain, so you know everywhere you go there is gonna be a whiskey, especially these days. But it was really, really nice. And then the last one, a gold plated. And I’m gonna sip. My children love that, and it’s become such a cool, fun thing for them.
[00:06:30] Daniel Curtis: If you’re gonna subscribe to something where you’re gonna trust someone like us to curate for you, to introduce something to you, our job is to surprise and delight, over-deliver and give you kind of an aha moment, something where you wouldn’t have necessarily selected this for yourself. You wouldn’t have thought of Australian whisky as the base to your Manhattan.
[00:06:53] But the fact that we have this awesome team of people who spend their lives looking for things that are gonna make even the person who’s seen it all, I mean, I know you’ve traveled. You’ve talked to a million fascinating people. We are always looking for like, what’s the kind of thing that is gonna make this person smile that they haven’t seen before, expand their horizons.
[00:07:18] A.J. Lawrence: And so far I think you guys are doing a really great job, and I know that’s something you guys are trying to expand. Cause we had chatted about, a little previously, just how you’re also expanding a lot into sort of the corporate gifting. I know that’s something that’s always hard for a lot of companies to get right. How is this an expansion for what you guys are doing?
[00:07:40] Daniel Curtis: We’ve kind of along the way, over the years, found that we have a special kind of magic. And I think as a leader of this company, my job is really hone the purpose of what this company is and find the best ways to apply it.
[00:07:55] So we started our luxury subscription box devices as a new way to tell stories to people who had an interest in discovering the coolest stuff in the world. You know, we were magazine publishers and so we would tell luxury stories. And so at first, I wanted to find a way to make that magazine editorial experience more experiential.
[00:08:16] And so the subscription box was a way of like, how do we get that next generation of luxury consumer to really pay attention to this content? Now, the magazines, it’s not the the first place that people go to get to get their content anymore. And so we took our storytelling, our editorial process, and put that to the gift box market.
[00:08:37] And we’ve had great success creating what I feel strongly is a very special and thoughtful, and beautiful discovery experience with our subscription boxes. And along the way, we kept having our members come to us and say, this is amazing. Our members are, they’re leaders of companies, they run law firms, they’re in the entertainment field.
[00:09:01] And so we have studio execs or members who then want to gift their entire cast of crew for a show of a box. And so they’d come to us saying, we want this as a gift. And it just kept coming as a pull from our members that we realized that part of our purpose is delivering that next level gift experience.
[00:09:19] And it’s really hard to find a gift that’s gonna make an impression with the kind of person who’s seen it all, especially if you’re gifting a high net worth individual. What can you give somebody who flies privately, who travels around the world, that’s not gonna get just lost or that isn’t gonna seem silly.
[00:09:38] And the fact that we curate our gift boxes as an experience, it’s more than just stuff in a box and it’s really high quality items and designed to be things that even that person might not have found themself makes it a really effective gift.
[00:09:54] So we’ve now expanded our company. We really have kind of two sides. We have our discovery side of the business for our subscribers who love to get our surprise gift boxes and be introduced to wonderful things like the spaghetti lungo and the pasta kit that you described and the Australian whisky and decanter experience.
[00:10:15] But the other side of things is we have companies ranging from Cadillac to the Los Angeles Rams that also have VIPs that they want a gift for. And they want to have an expression of their own brand in that gift box. So what we realize is it’s a really good application of that special sauce that we created where we’ve got a curation team, where we thoughtfully curate really wonderful products. We have an amazing packaging, design, and production team. And we have [inaudible]
[00:10:46] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. The box is so beautiful.
[00:10:50] Daniel Curtis: Yeah. So it was almost like a natural extension of we don’t need to just do this for ourselves and our community. We can open up these services for the wider community, which was a very important pivot for our business. That really enhanced what this company was. Rather than changing its focus, it opened us up to a tremendous increase in business.
[00:11:14] A.J. Lawrence: Cool. Now the curation, I think that special sauce of building the creation, that team, is that out there on the west coast with you? Where is your team located? Where do you find your curators?
[00:11:28] Daniel Curtis: Yeah. Our team is split predominantly between Los Angeles where I’m now based and New York, where I was previously. And we have curators on both coasts. We also have amazing relationships with people who are in the editorial world. Again, we came from the media world. The people that we met through publishing Robb Report Magazine and our other associated titles, we’ve got a great network of people who are some of the first to hear about the coolest stuff in the world when it’s released.
[00:12:02] So we’ve stayed very close with a number of editors who also contribute to the content that goes in our boxes. We actually produce a magazine that goes with our boxes that tells the story of what you’re gonna experience. And so those writers are always giving us tips.
[00:12:18] And I mean, this is a labor of love for me. I’m an adventurer. I love to travel and anytime I’m somewhere new and I see something that’s special, I’m looking at who makes it. I’m talking to the restaurant, who are your suppliers for these really cool things? And it ends up becoming just part of our nature, always looking and seeing what is unique and interesting.
[00:12:44] But our team is extremely talented and they travel frequently. And this is the way that they live, always keeping their eyes open.
[00:12:53] A.J. Lawrence: Bringing it back to your focus on that overall brand of just really dividing that specific type of customer, I think is very, very cool. It’s a very tough thing to develop consistently. I’ve seen and I’ve been investors in some really cool early fab.com. Unfortunately, did amazing and then just sort of lost the train of where they were going. So to be able to do this in a consistent manner is a lot more difficult than it kind of comes across.
[00:13:28] Daniel Curtis: Oh yeah. And we’re sourcing product from all around the world. And the last couple of years, the whole process of procuring beautiful handcrafted products from countries around the world, getting them to our warehouse in Los Angeles, beautifully packaging them, and getting them to the end consumer all within one of the most challenging supply chain moments that in recent decades, there are challenges there.
[00:13:59] We’ve had to be on our toes constantly with how things have had to move around and making sure that we’re fulfilling and delivering at the full promise that we’re making to our members, with so many different supply chain issues that keep coming at us. But the thing is that there’s been no shortage of discovery in wonderful things out there.
[00:14:25] A.J. Lawrence: The world’s a vast place.
[00:14:29] Daniel Curtis: Yeah. People keep saying like, how do you guys keep coming up with all these cool new things to put in the box? There’s a big world of people who are making wonderful things and there’s a lot to discover.
[00:14:41] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, I mean that I think was one of the things I really loved about the box was it really felt like having just moved back from Europe. Spain has its own kind of colloquialism and there was a lot, but you were part of Europe. Here sometimes it’s like I can find 20 billion Chick-fil-As and all that other stuff. But to find something really good and something different, it takes almost extra work. The basics are all there. So it’s like, that was really nice. As someone who has lived abroad and being like, oh my God, check this out, this Italian. It really felt as if they were coming from a place, not just a pasta sauce.
[00:15:27] Daniel Curtis: Yeah. And that’s, we curate every box with love and there has to be a "why" behind the box. You’ve lived abroad, you’re somebody who has a traveler’s heart. We wanna give you a little bit of that experience, even if you’re kind of working at home on Zoom most days, like giving you a little bit of that feeling of you’ve just walked into somewhere special and you’ve met somebody really interesting.
[00:15:53] And so we put a lot of heart into what goes into the box, the way that it’s presented so that it has the reverence for the people that make it, and packaging is important. Presentation is really important for that impression that it makes when you unbox something and then making sure that we’re really telling the stories of the people that made these things, which is a huge part of luxury.
[00:16:18] I mean, I’ve had the privilege of growing up within Robb Report, the leading luxury lifestyle magazine, where I was able to be a student in what luxury actually is. And understanding how products are made, who’s making them, how they impact their own communities is a huge part of what makes a product a luxury product. So we have to tell that story appropriately so that you know how special this thing is that you receive.
[00:16:47] A.J. Lawrence: Well, I mean, telling a strong, coherent story, incorporating these very vast distribution networks, the growing size of the business, all of this, that is extremely complex, you know, from a business person, as an intro and you say, oh yeah, we did this.
[00:17:06] But the reality is there’s 20 million things that kind of happen under. Your ability to do this, this is a highly complex, highly difficult business, but that kind of makes it so cool. At the same time, what are you doing to help you deal with this increasing complexity now as you start expanding?
[00:17:28] Daniel Curtis: Well, key thing is, and I know a lot of people that you’ve spoken with on the show in the past, it’s always about hiring for your blind spots, making sure that you are bringing in talent and recognizing where your personal strengths are and where your weaknesses are. So a huge part about it is bringing on the people to the team that really can fly on their own, and that brings strengths and ideas that you don’t have.
[00:17:55] We have a creative director. I love to be involved in the creative process, but our creative director is a phenomenal artist and thinks about things in the way of presenting things that I never would have. And everything is always done perfectly the first time. And when you have those kinds of people on the team, it really changes the way that the organization operates.
[00:18:20] With that said, we’re still in a pretty young stage of the business, and we have vast streams. We have a lot that we wanna accomplish. We have a tremendous amount that we still need to work out, and figure out how in the future, the supply chain challenges that we faced in the last 18 months, two years, that pressure’s been decreasing but now we have to look forward and say, okay, with all the things that happen now, how do we make sure that that never happens again?
[00:18:53] How do we mitigate this so that we can always protect our customers from those pressures that we might have? How are we going to rethink certain types of cost structures when our packaging cost is dramatically increasing in the new realities, but not wanting to pass along that increase to our customers.
[00:19:16] So there’s a lot of things that we need to constantly figure out from a standard operating, as a company that’s operating at it at its best. But I think the biggest thing is about prioritization cuz there’s so much opportunity with a company like this.
[00:19:32] We have so much exposure to really great types of businesses and our customers are such unique, valuable people to engage with. So for us, it’s about what are the right steps to make now and what are the plans that we should be making in order for us to be maximizing the value that we have for our customers, that we have for our vendors, and making this the most powerful and valuable company that we possibly can be.
[00:20:00] A.J. Lawrence: That client base and the client base you’ve worked very hard to develop is a very difficult audience in general. It’s very lucrative, but at the same time it is highly complex and highly difficult to satisfy. So building that up really increases your long-term value to what you guys can do.
[00:20:22] So what are some of the things you would like to kind of go on? You have said there were some things at your back burner that you were thinking about going? Where would you like to go with this?
[00:20:32] Daniel Curtis: Well, a few things that are very much immediate priorities were, one is we are currently really just serving the United States. US is a big market and there’s still plenty of room to grow within the US but it has been a priority of ours to expand internationally. And we’re looking at opening up what we do to the UK and Europe, to Southeast Asia and beyond in the coming years. And that opening up international markets for customers also will increase what we can do in finding more and more things for the box for customers here.
[00:21:11] So expanding internationally is a big priority for us, and further reinforcing what we’re doing on the gifting side of things, which is relatively new. We only in the last couple of years really realized that we are a gifting company and part of our purpose is delivering the absolute best gift box experience that exists.
[00:21:32] It’s been a fast growing part of our business, but it has a tremendous amount of growth. It’s a huge market. The corporate gifting market is massive and we’re just scratching the surface. I’m very proud that we’re already working with some of the most exciting companies in the world as their gift box partner, but we need to build infrastructure to grow this a thousand fold because that opportunity is there.
[00:22:04] One of the things that we’ve kind of always protected is, with our direct to consumer side of our business, we’ve never wanted to try to beat everything to everyone. There’s birchboxes out there, or say a big subscription box companies that do a good job of appealing to a broad base. We have always been very focused on appealing to a discerning, successful, hard to please type of customer. And that means that we don’t need to scale our memberships into the millions to be powerful and valuable.
[00:22:41] So our focus is on making sure that we deepen that relationship with that very important, very valuable customer base that we do have with Vices, with our Rarity Club subscription, our iconic wine club, and having an even more engaging experience for them.
[00:22:57] And then with the B2B side of our business, our custom gift boxes services, that’s infinitely scalable. And both sides of the business fuel each other. So we really wanna build more and more infrastructure around the corporate side, and then keep optimizing, strengthening, making our memberships even more special. And I’d love to bring a lot more of that editorial magic that we’ve done in the past on a larger scale.
[00:23:26] Again, I had the privilege of growing up within Robb Report Magazine and I think that there’s an opening in the market for a fresh voice of luxury editorial. And we do that in a certain way with our boxes and our content that we do there. But I want to do more to celebrate the brands of people that are doing things at the highest levels and shine a light there. And I think that there is an opening and a need for a new editorial brand that we want to launch within this company.
[00:24:05] A.J. Lawrence: No, that is really cool because I do love just how unique and how true each of items are. Would you also consider helping some of these amazing brands? Cause some of these have great markets, but are local. They don’t have a global footprint and they would do incredibly well in the expanded marketplace. Do you ever look to do that or is that just down the road, another
[00:24:33] Daniel Curtis: Yeah. Well, a huge part of what we offer as a company, the products that you will discover in your box, you mentioned Starward Whisky, the Australian Single Malt, our job is to tell their story to the people that are going to be game changing for them. Introduce them to the right type of customers. And we’ve done that time and time again with our boxes about showcasing the brands that are worth the attention of this special customer.
[00:25:07] And in some cases, we do have a e-commerce store where there are certain things that you can purchase more of. We have a shop called vicesgifting.com and we have a members shop called vicesreserve.com, where that’s kind of the early development that we have of our marketplace.
[00:25:31] But again, it comes down to the decision of where are we best applying our magic and our resources as a company? There’s a lot that we can definitely do in the marketplace area, how we manage our internal resources of focusing on the subscription side of the business, the corporate gifting, and then the e-commerce marketplace as well.
[00:25:52] That’s been sounding kind of an internal, ongoing, internal conversation of where are we best putting our resources, of what we should really be developing right now and pushing right now.
[00:26:03] A.J. Lawrence: Is it more because you’re self-funding this and you growing from internal resources? You know, from basically using what you kill to grow here.
[00:26:16] Daniel Curtis: 100%. We’ve bootstrapped this business and I have a great set of friends and family investors that when we spun this out of Robb Report originally, we were able to create something that has turned into a business that we’re proud of, an 8-figure business.
[00:26:34] But now that we look at how we’re going to get to be a 9-figure business, that is definitely something where we are looking at the right way. It might be time to do a Series A and turn on the growth a bit more quickly because there’s so much that we can do.
[00:26:56] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. I mean I would love to hear more about that if that comes up to the case cuz I do think you have a really sweet product with a really nice market. I think it’s a nice mix. So I think that, you know, definitely would be interested in seeing if you are going out there, what you’re doing on that.
[00:27:14] Daniel Curtis: Yeah, of course. Now, we were close to kicking it off and then of course we’re now in a unique market moment but we’ll [inaudible]
[00:27:26] A.J. Lawrence: What’s the next shoe to drop?
[00:27:29] Daniel Curtis: Yeah, exactly. You know, who you’re talking to were either stepping into a bright year ahead or a few years of some bumps in the road, but part of how we’re operating the business and I think, not that we intended to do it this way, the fact that we didn’t raise a whole bunch of money right away, you know go to a big VC and raise crazy money and crazy valuations off the bat, it made us operate the company as a lean and effective company. And we didn’t burn through a lot of money in a way that it created problems for us.
[00:28:12] So that, retrospectively, I’m grateful. That we had to fight tooth and nail to get to this point, because it puts us in a much stronger position as we try to get to the next point.
[00:28:25] A.J. Lawrence: That is impressive and it’s very difficult to do.. And it’s much harder. But having bootstrapped businesses, it is so much of a better feeling when you have done it. Though yes, the early stages suck. They just suck.
[00:28:41] Daniel Curtis: Yeah, it’s never gonna be under capitalized and there’s always gonna be more surprises than you think there are gonna be. And then you also have changing market conditions. We’re predominantly an e-commerce based business, and like any other business that was predominantly e-commerce, direct to consumer, Facebook was a huge part of our marketing strategy for a number of years.
[00:29:09] And with a number of changes that happened over the last couple of years, the viability of that as an advertising channel really shifted for us, which is part of what prompted our foray into B2B. And when we just saw where do you go grow the company? Being more thoughtful on return on investment with ads spent. If you are a bootstrapped, you know, a small company-
[00:29:36] A.J. Lawrence: You can more directly control your destiny, yeah.
[00:29:40] Daniel Curtis: No, exactly. So then on some levels, it’s forced us to make smarter choices and be more thoughtful about how we implement ad spend, and not just burn money because we have no choice but to show growth in numbers.
[00:29:56] But the other side of it is, it does really force you to have to really grind and really look for those new customers, especially if you have a customer base like ours, which are not the easiest to find.
[00:30:09] A.J. Lawrence: That is very, very true. Given how much you’ve put in from boostrapping this, coming from the family business, given the size of this overall marketplace, what is success as an entrepreneur going to be like for you? How do you define success for you personally? Not for vices, but for you?
[00:30:30] Daniel Curtis: I put a very high premium on the value of work-life balance. What we do, I mean delivering the coolest wine and spirits and travel experiences to people’s door, it’s an expression of who I am. I mean, all these things are, I’m sending my favorite things out in the world and I’m sharing them with friends and friends that I haven’t met. And so I am so grateful that I’ve been able to create a business that supports a life that I’m lucky to live.
[00:31:03] And so success for me, I think, is about really making this business that we have as powerful that it can be and as sustainable – making this company sustainable and as powerful can be so it can lift up our employees, it can be even more effective for our partners, and really deliver on the promise to our members.
[00:31:26] I want all, everybody that works, whatever works with us to have been lifted up by that experience. Whether you’re a vendor that’s in a box or associated with something that we’re doing, whether you’re a corporate gifting partner, for people to think of us and have a real honest feeling like, wow, we’re better off having worked with vices. We’re better off with having worked with Daniel. That for me is the most important thing.
[00:31:55] I want to create a business and a way of being an entrepreneur that is kind of guided by love and guided by giving people a reason to take a step back. A huge part of what we do is celebrating the products and experiences that help people live in the moment, and our voice is very much about authentic living. Putting your phone down, real experiences where you’re talking to somebody and you’re not just kind of like lost in work, lost in your phone all the time.
[00:32:31] I think that’s important. And we have a place that we can play and launch more products that make people’s lives better in a way where it’s like there’s nothing like the conversation you have with somebody over a great glass of wine, with a full belly, and you’re actually looking at each other in the eye.
[00:32:53] And I love cigars. There’s nothing quite like a cigar where if you’re gonna light up a cigar with somebody and sit down, it’s like, I’m gonna spend an actual hour with you at least.
[00:33:03] Yeah, you have to.
[00:33:05] The rest of the world pass us by. Like we’re gonna be in the moment together. I mean that, I wanna bring more of that to the world. And I love the fact that with this business, we get to constantly engage with people who are crazy passionate about what they do, whether it is the tequila maker or that family cigar roller, the artisan who’s coming up with a new granola, or somebody who’s designing the sexiest sports car in the world.
[00:33:38] When you work with these kinds of people, that’s addicting. People who absolutely love what they do. I’m very addicted to making sure that I’m spending time with people who are interesting and passionate and thoughtful and that are doing really cool things themselves.
[00:33:56] A.J. Lawrence: That’s very impressive. And so far I have been beyond impressed in what I’ve been able to experience in the boxes. So, I really appreciate you coming on today, Daniel. This was cool. I so can’t wait to see what’s in the next box. And even more importantly, what you guys do down the road. Thank you so much for being here.
[00:34:18] Daniel Curtis: We’ve got great stuff coming. Thank you for having me. Appreciate the chance to talk about it.
[00:34:22] A.J. Lawrence: All right.
[00:34:29] This episode of Beyond 8 Figures is over, but your journey as an entrepreneur continues. So if we can help you with anything, please just let us know. And if you liked this episode, please share it with someone who might learn from it. Until next time, keep growing and find the joy in your journey. This is A.J., and I’ll be talking to you soon. Bye-bye.