John Shin is the Chief Digital Officer and Partner at Agraria San Francisco, and he is also the Managing Partner at Prawn, Coastal Casual, a fast-casual seafood restaurant by Chef Mark Peel in downtown Los Angeles. John is also the Principal at John Shin Consulting and he has worked with several startups and he is an expert at marketing a business during times of crisis. He uses his expertise in not just creating his own business but in helping other companies market their brand more efficiently and effectively.
This episode is sponsored by Juhll. They are a full service digital marketing consultancy that has over 20 years of experience helping your business grow sales online. They've helped most of their clients grow more than 50% year over year by helping them meet their digital marketing goals.
Juhll Digital Agency works with companies who are doing $50 million in top line revenue that have a marketing budget of $2 million. They build your company from the ground up and they also help you in creating a strategy that will work best for your team.
"I love the big account and big agency life. But after, you know, years of that I just got tired." - John Shin
"The problem is a lot of people - they can't smell the opportunity... like, when something good comes to you, you don't know that it's good." - John Shin
"So, I mean, I don't even have to be transparent. No restaurant in America is doing well right now." - John Shin
Welcome to Snyder's marketing showdown and original Juhll Agency production. In this show, you'll discover which elite business executives hold the strongest hand in business marketing and operations. Listen to Epic no holds barred showdowns debating the latest groundbreaking strategies this side of the internet WARNING This show ain't for rookies. So check your ego at the door with your host president of Juhll Agency and founder, operator, investor in Banks.com Chris Snyder.
Chris Snyder 0:43
Hello everyone. Chris Snyder here - host of the Snyder Showdown president at Juhll.com and founder of Banks.com in the show, we talk with industry leaders and entrepreneurs about what's working and what's not with their growth programs. In addition, we just To add how industry leaders are guiding their teams through this tough time of COVID-19. Just a quick message from our sponsor, Juhll is a full-service digital consultancy and we focus on helping executives solve their toughest digital growth problems while working as an extension of the executive team. We focus on three things, we quickly identify the biggest problems impeding growth, we then propose solutions that give you the best opportunity for success. And finally, we have to get the work done. So we bring a private marketplace, a vetted world-class talent to execute the plan. Of course, we manage this whole process. To learn more, go to Juhll.com or you can email me directly. It's chris@Juhll.com. Okay, without further ado, today I have John Shin. He is the Chief Digital Officer and partner at the luxury goods brand Agraria San Francisco. He is also the managing partner of Prawn, Coastal Casual, a fast-casual seafood restaurant by Chef Mark Peel located in downtown Los Angeles. Welcome, John.
John Shin 2:13
Great to be here, Chris.
Chris Snyder 2:15
Thank you. Thank you. We've been talking about this for a long time. We've been hanging out for a long time and working together for a long time. I know your background, but our audience doesn't. So why don't you start with your background? John, where did you grow up? How did you get started?
John Shin 2:29
Absolutely. I was born in Korea, actually. And I came to America when I was five years old. And we move straight to a little suburb in Los Angeles called San Bernardino. It's really another county just outside of Los Angeles. My grandparents had a farm there a very successful Korean farm servicing the Korean markets in Los Angeles. And so when I came to America, unlike most immigrants I went straight to a farm and I grew up on a farm for the first couple of years of my life in America. So it was a great experience. From about five years old to seven years old. We had a little shack in the middle of one of my grandparents, big plots of land. It was a seed check. So there were a bunch of burlap bags and they're filled with seeds before we moved in. And when we got there, my grandparents cleared it out, put wallpaper on the walls, put a bed in there. That's amazing. And we slept in this thing. It was probably 35 degrees at night. Wow. for probably a year or two or something like that. I'd be a little fuzzy now. But we grew up in this little shack. My parents came to America because my father was a banker in Korea and he hated his life. My father's a very religious man, the bank at that time because he spoke English well, one that hits me entertain clients. That's not what he wanted to do. And so he brought her family to America in 1981. And I loved it. I loved it. I remember growing up and waking up every morning smelling the soil, hearing the roosters starting out and seeing just, you know, a sea of vegetation and plum trees and peach trees and loving it. So that so the first few years of my life and in California was a very non-Metropolitan Metropolitan, and most of my childhood also was, you know, in that general area in little suburbs. And so, growing up in that area, I really didn't get a sense for LA, you know, until later on in life. I messed around a lot in high school. I got into a lot of trouble. I think you know, this Chris, but I got kicked out of high school for about six months to a year. Had to be placed back into school in my junior year. So basically freshman year I passed one or two classes sophomore year, I got kicked out. And then I realized that summer after my sophomore year that I needed to clean up my life and get my life together.
Chris Snyder 5:17
Because although you loved living on a farm, you realize you probably did not want to become a farmer.
John Shin 5:26
It's a great point. I remember waking up the summer after my sophomore year and thinking, the best chance I have right now. Right? My dream job, if I don't clean up my life is to maybe become a plumber right now. That was what went through my mind. And I woke up and I went to talk to my dad after a long night one night and as a dad, I think I need to change this. And so we literally went to school that morning and I begged to be placed back in the system principal laughed in my face and said get out. out of here. And on my way out, I bumped into one of my counselors from before. And she was shocked to see me and I told her my story and she said, wait right here, I'm going to go talk to him and see if I can do something for you. She comes back 15 minutes later and she said, Okay, yeah, yeah, there's zero tolerance. But I'm going to take you in as my special project, one strike. One that one strike, you're out, no questions asked. And so we so I went through about 14 hours, hours of school every day for about two years. Wow. graduated high school in two years, got out somehow miraculously ended up at UCLA. You know, I had a great essay. And, and spent a number of years there and graduated. I was a psych major now and that was determined at that time to become a therapist, and I was applying for my GRE the test to get into grad school. And I remember sitting there and thinking this is not what I want to do. Right? You know, I'm not an overly patient person, as you know. And the idea of doing research or possibly even going into the clinical side is boring. just bored me to tears.
Chris Snyder 7:20
I can't even believe that that thought would have even crossed your mind. But although I know you really well, and so I'm just like, I could not see you in a research lab or doing sitting there. counseling like it doesn't make any sense.
John Shin 7:35
I couldn't you know who I am. And I can't sit there for more than five or 10 minutes, right? Yeah. Moving around or without cracking a joke or without doing something different than interesting and, and so that's what crossed my mind. I was like, I'm crazy. I would never be happy doing that. So UCLA, just like all the colleges have a bunch of companies that come on an interview and I interview with another number of companies a typical at that time, the big five consulting agencies, some financial shops. And I decided, you know, after going through probably 20 or 30 interviews that I wanted to do something different than interesting, I took some programming classes. I really enjoyed that. And I had a business, essentially a business minor as well. And I decided to take a job with a startup in New York City. So right after I graduated, I think two months afterward, they gave me a good package, a nice signing bonus. And so I flew to Manhattan, you know, in my early 20s, and there was a group of us that this startup hired to help launch individual locations around the country. Okay, what is this mid or late 90s? Late 90s? Yeah, we get there. The market is hot. You know, a little after we get there they raise I think like $600 million.
Chris Snyder 9:01
But to no longer a startup.
John Shin 9:05
Or a little startup. They're building locations all around the world. And it was truly one of the best times of my life. Right parties all the time to million-dollar parties regularly. Yeah. You know, these guys bringing in supercars to take clients to, you know, the party destinations, all sorts of crazy stuff. And so, had a great time and then a little bit after I came back to LA to help start up their LA office. And that was when the 2000 crash happened. Right? The recession happened in 2000. I was young, I thought my equity back then or my options back then would amount to something I'll retire at 30, life will be good.
Chris Snyder 9:48
Right? We were super smart back then. Right? 25-year-olds know everything about everything in life.
John Shin 9:55
Was this easy? Nope. So we come back. We're so super stoked. And, of course, the market crashed and you know, eventually the office closed and so you know, I had to do something else. So after that, I think I spent about a month or two just relaxing, right? I was young, you know, I wasn't overly eager to start working again. And then a couple of months afterward, a friend of mine gave me a call and I and I took a job at this tech company hated it, absolutely hated it. That's another story for another day, but I've never told you that story. So I quit that job probably about six months after. And I went to this another tech company that was started by a rocket scientist that helped kids basically get into college. They were one of the first online college application companies which then grew from there to more called general college admissions. Yeah, college advertising. And I went there as a young kid, grew pretty quickly, became a manager pretty quickly. And I started managing different state college systems, including the US Department of Education, which got me gave me great insight into how the government works. So long story short, I spent three years there. And then my life, my professional life completely changed. And I moved to the advertising world after that. Yeah. So what I did, there was more tech, more just business management, account management, relationship management, doing presentations around different regions, right where our clients were. And then I went from that into a small agency and work with Toyota focusing on Lexus on the digital side, and I was the account, kind of program manager on site there at Toyota Motor sales in ports right, they've moved to Plano, Texas since I was there on-site for about a year and a half. I didn't spend too much time there, and then I got recruited by McCann, McCann World Group. At that time, they just won a combined massive Microsoft account. So I went into their la office to help manage parts of the digital business. I had a great time. Microsoft was a bear have a plan, of course. Yeah, I learned a ton. And a little bit after I joined and you know, the one thing that you'll find out and this hopefully, you know, quick story, I'll go faster here is that I've had many, many, many jobs there. There was about a 10-year span where I had 11 jobs.
Chris Snyder 12:36
You and me both man, like God, sitting still is really a difficult thing to do.
John Shin 12:42
And that lesson as well, right that, you know, we can talk about later. So I went after that a company gave me a call and they recruited me to join them and I joined them and this company at that time was called Zag. Yeah. And eventually, they became Truecar. Right? So I was on the early team, I was, you know, part of the group that worked seven days a week, almost 14 hours a day I was doing, you know, 8am to 1am days, you know, frequently often loved it. We launched the company in about six months, you know, small miracle. And when that was there, I worked on a multitude of things. I initially worked on the lead gen program, then they needed some help building out the infrastructure. So I had to learn how you know, IT systems work. I'm not a tech guy, per se. And then I took over the lead acquisition lead management program, which was the primary revenue-generating funnel of the company. So I did that. And then I moved back to McCann for a little while. And because they recruited me after we launched the company and I was done. Kind of putting in my time there went back to McCann, and I ended up after that I went through a series of big ad agencies and you know, this part Yep. And so I worked on massive accounts everywhere. I love the big account and big agency life. But after, you know, years of that I just got tired.
Chris Snyder 14:12
Right? Yeah, we're talking What? 10 years of this?
John Shin 14:16
Like, yeah, probably about 10 years of it, and it's a grind, man, you know?
Chris Snyder 14:19
Yeah, I'm on 12 Oh, yeah.
John Shin 14:22
Right. I said, You know, I want to go to a smaller agency, a boutique agency, where we have more flexibility and our clients, even though we'll have big clients, that different kind of relationship and, and so I just joined the old friend of mine, who was at Razorfish, who was actually my boss at Razorfish, and he gave me a call one day and said, Hey, John, are you interested in doing some business together? And I said, Sure, let's talk. So I think we met together for dinner or drinks. And he said, Hey, you know, I'm in contact with this one agency. They want to open a location in LA, they didn't have a location at that time in LA. He's Do you want to partner with me? We'll be the first to you work for me. But you know, but it'll be a collaborative relationship. I'm like, of course, and I have tons of respect for you. Let's give it a go. So that was 2008. The markets crashed again. Yeah. And I remember sitting there with him in this temporary office and thinking, What in the world that we get ourselves into right, two to two fathers, you know, relatively young fathers with young kids. And somehow we built up a team of about 20 during that horrific time for most people brought in some really, really attractive accounts, really interesting accounts with super edgy brands. And we built that offers office from two to 20 in year one, and I think in year two went from like 20 to 50.
Chris Snyder 15:46
Wow, creative agency.
John Shin 15:50
We also did packaging and then we did some work for Monster Energy, for example, and Disney, so we got some great business and And we did that. But then as agencies go, you know, you know, I grew tired of it. A lot of drama is always going on at agencies. And, and, and I remember towards the end of it thinking, you know, I just want to go home and eat dinner with my daughter, yeah.
Chris Snyder 16:17
Time with the family without calling my wife at 8pm and say, "Hey, I'm going to miss dinner again." So you have another three hours of post-production because some jerk off messed up to shoot, right. And we got to redo it.
John Shin 16:30
change something last minute or, or, you know, I have a client in town that hey, it's going to go longer than I thought, you know, same old story, right? Two, three nights a week at least. Yeah. So a little after that. I got a call from a friend, old boss of mine as well at at&t, and he asked me if I would be interested in helping launch one project and I was like, You know what, I actually prefer that I don't want a full-time job right now. contract work will be great. And so I joined AT&T Interactive, which eventually became YP - that you know, the company that you're familiar with. And I helped launch a tech project. Again, I'm not an engineer by trade, but it was a project that, that using technologies that I was familiar with, I basically project manage that project and help launches a new data system and record time it was kind of a, it was kind of a big deal that we were able to launch it so quickly. So I did that. And then they gave me gave me an offer to stay. And I'm like, I love the fact that I can go home and have dinner with a family. And so I joined the company. for about three years, it was business as usual. And then about three years into it servers, the big private equity, purchased our division, which was AT&T Interactive, and the Yellow Pages the old Yellow Pages book combined together. We servers bought this business. I helped him to transition so I moved over to transit A team led by a service leader, joined that team, and then after we migrated, became the head of marketing ops within obviously, our marketing department worked for our CMO at that time. A little after that is when I met you, Chris. Yeah, sorry for the long story here. You can go if you want.
Chris Snyder 18:21
No, this is the good stuff. Honestly, this is the good stuff you've been through a lot. And the years that you glossed over a little bit there, which I think are important years, and I think it's important for our audience to understand going through multiple crises, right, like 2000 in 2001, obviously, September 11, and also the tech crash. So guys like you and I were just fresh out of college, maybe two or three years of experience and then boom, you get it. hit with a two by four right? Now your script you don't have enough explain, no one will hire you because you don't know anything even though you think you do. Right and then 2008 I frequently tell the story I worked at Experian, I came home with my shit in a box, right? Literally that day they fired like 400 people or whatever it was. And you start to and then now we're into 2020. Right. And I think that you know, guys like you and other people that I've had on the show that are that I would call with very experienced business professionals. I think it's important that we're professionals important. Now is the time to really have you know, folks like us involved in your business, because I think we've just kind of seen some stuff and hopefully it would be .coming, fit to have some people on your team that know what to look for, know how to make the necessary tough decisions, which a lot of people obviously unless you've been through it, you don't know what the toughest Are you don't know how to make them. You might over-index on the optimism and not enough on you know, the other side of that table. So, no, this story is great. But what it brings us to also is your probably two or three or four entrepreneurial endeavors. So, some of this, I would contend, if it was somewhat structured right like McCann's, a big company. AT&T Interactive, although they're startups inside of these, they're somewhat of largish largest behemoths status and politics, probably a lot of that. But now, I mean, I see you as in you always have been, but I see you more now than ever, like a full-blown entrepreneur. So tell us about you know, tell us about, you know, roots, maybe tell us about Agraria. Tell us about your restaurants. It's such a wide range of things that you're doing. Tell us a little bit about your new entrepreneurial endeavors.
John Shin 21:07
Yeah, no, it's so about six, seven years ago. So I just to be clear, though, startups and entrepreneurship were always in my blood. I always had joined the big risky startup, right. And so, when I even though that didn't end well, well, at that time, we blew through $600 million in less than a year, which is in and of itself a feat, but
it was always in my blood, the one
create original ideas, build original tools and, and also be a part of the creative process. So that is essentially who I am. Even though a lot of times in my life I have served more of an operations role, more of a delivery role, more of like a team leader role. What I've always enjoyed the most was creating and building. And you know me well now so you know that about me, but I think a lot of people that knew me, you know, 20 years ago didn't quite understand that about me because I was just another business guy, right? Yeah. During these periods, I was always working on something on the side. I always did. Ever since I was a kid,
Chris Snyder 22:19
you've always had a side hustle. If for as long as I've known you, you've had a side hustle.
John Shin 22:23
So that's something I think when we met, right, I remember meeting you at NYP after the whole service acquisition. And we met for the first time and I think I told you like what else I do and you're like, really? like IBM, IBM time on like, in the US big time, right. Yeah. But to go back to the, you know, from when we met since that since I'd be more relevant for you. It is we met and I think right before then, I started two things right. I became a partner at Agraria San Francisco, which we'll talk about more and then I started, I co-started a company called Trueroots, which is a craft beverage company. At the same time while I had my full-time job at YP when you and I were working together to build up that business, right, so Chris and I met when I was at YP. And Chris was already helping a colleague of mine with summer for like, social work, right dimension. Yeah. And then we met and I'm like, I love Chris. I love his energy. I'm a fighter. And I love fighters. I love people where I can just sense that if there's blood in the water, you know, they're going for it. Right? And because I know that they're, they're in it to win it instead of just trying to make a dollar. Yeah, you, of course you want to make a dollar. But I but I've always felt that you're more disappointed when something doesn't work. And when something doesn't work well because of mistakes and stupidity than not making a dollar.
Chris Snyder 24:02
Yeah, you can't. That's a great point. You can't do what we do as entrepreneurs unless you love it because I think if you would have asked me, you know, when I came home with my shit in a box in 2008 if you would have asked me like, hey, how does it feel? What does it sound like to be an entrepreneur and then come in every single day for the next, you know, 12 or 15 years and get the shit kicked out of you? I would. I don't think many people want to sign up for that. So I think the highs are extremely high. I think the lows are extremely low. And it requires someone with a certain kind of personality. You know, you said it earlier, we can't sit still super impatient. I'm not saying it's a right or wrong thing not to be able to sit still or be super impatient. I think my wife would contend that these are not good qualities in a human being. I would contend that, you know, having four computer screens and doing 10 different things. Not all at the same time. But these are the things I think you and I, you know, shared through everything we've we've kind of worked on. And when shit hits the fan you know, I played football in college, I know you played some baseball and you've been an athlete also played football. When shit hits the fan, you need someone with a little bit of grit. And someone that's not going to run away when shit hits the fan, whether the unit economics work or not, right, if you say you're going to do some you're going to do it. And I think you know, these are the kinds of people we are right. So. So tell us about your transition from YP into I guess the restaurant business - it's fascinating. And then now you've got your hands full with Agraria obviously, you know we work together on that business a little bit, but tell me about some of the things that you've been working on. With no true roots, and then now also Agrarian, and also the restaurant business, because you've had a lot of really interesting things in that in that business.
John Shin 26:09
So when I was at the end days of YP, I was honestly trying to get out, right, I'm like, I'm done with this. I'm kind of just like, I just like, when I was tired with the agency world, I decided that at that time was the end of my corporate career for that time, because I was tired of the corporate, you know, rigmarole and the politics that go into it and, and getting nothing done, right. And really working really hard to get as little done as possible, right. And so, I decided, you know, to figure out a way to exit right and exit gracefully. And, and it happened, right, so I knew that the company was downsizing. And so, you know, I threw my hat in and said, Look, I'll be the first one. raise my hand, right if the company needs to downsize. So, at that time, I was already a partner at a grocery and making money. I just started that beverage company and was making money and I was like, I'll be fine. Right? And so, so I left and Agrarian Agraria at that time was what and it still is a very well respected American luxury company is considered America's first premium luxury home fragrance company. Well, you know, we're in Neiman Marcus. We're in Bloomingdale's. We're inherited in New York, in London. I mean, for doors in New York, where the amenities provider for intercontinental hotels worldwide. We've got a great reputation but what they didn't have two things. Number one, any real digital presence Yeah, business with a little website and then they also weren't addressing the younger audience, yeah. You know, the build-up of the future audience. Well now, in many ways, they are a billionaires product company. Right? Our customers historically are very wealthy. You know, it is like the Jackie O, Capote he in the early days. Share, you know, uh, you know, just, it just goes on and on what an amazing asset, a crazy asset. Right. And so that part we had, we had this great foundation, but what we didn't have was a young audience that we can groom and grow for the next you know, 20-30 years. So, so that's why I got involved there. Right. So a friend of mine is one of the owners, we had a discussion. You know, we did a little bit of kind of helping each other out, you know, thing going in the early days, and then he asked me how interested I would be and become Being a partner in the business and joining the business. And I agreed to it. And so that part is, you know, the lesson there that I learned. And I've told this story so many times that you know, you've probably heard it 30 times in entrepreneurship. Yes, it's about starting something from nothing. Right? This, wasn't it? I would say most entrepreneurship is seeing opportunities and joining the way that makes sense. Yeah. A lot of times, you know, I'll know how many times I've heard people say, I've got this great idea. How do I do it, man?
Chris Snyder 29:38
I'm like, Oh, my God, if I had a nickel for
John Shin 29:41
every time, you shouldn't do it, right. If you have to ask somebody, how do I do something? You haven't done the research yourself. You know what, stop, you're not going to succeed go and figure out fundamentally what you want to do and how to how are you going to do it right. So so the when opportunities come your way You have to capture it. The problem is a lot of people and just like in sales, right? A lot of people - they can't smell the opportunity. Yeah. Like when something good comes to you, you don't know that it's good. When an opportunity to do something unique and creative comes your way you have no idea. Because you don't know what it looks like I remember, I had a drink with this old colleague. She's a great gal. And we had a get-together and she wanted to do something else as well. And she's like, how do I do it? I'm like, well, you have this skill, you have this talent that people want, right? It's documented that people want it. And she's like, but how do I make money off? And I'm like, everybody wants it. Right? meet with people tell them that you can support them, tell them that you're available as a consultant. told them that you can advise if there's a special project that you can help out in some way, right?
Chris Snyder 30:54
Yeah. Go do it. Go do it.
John Shin 30:58
Go do something else. Do it. And then, you know, it comes back to you.
Chris Snyder 31:03
And, well, you know, what, what I was thinking about this morning. And I don't know why I never thought about this before. But in this, by the way, kind of how we started our business relationship to a lot of people refuse to take a chance on themselves. And I'll explain that. Most employee-minded folks will say, Okay, I will take this job as long as you pay me money, right? Instead of, Look, I know I'm good enough to do this, and I will win. So I'm going to give you a little bit on the front end to show you that I'll win. I'm going to hit my numbers, but you will eventually pay me the money because I'm going to win anyway. But I thought about this, just today, actually, I'm like, Why does everybody expect for me to cover the initial investment in an expensive Laureen if they are who they say they are, like, what, why is that? One of my buddies, he's in New York and he actually, you know, had had some pretty big marketing jobs at Verizon and Gatorade and Microsoft and all this stuff. So he's going through a period where he's reinventing himself right now. He's learned how to code Python. He's creating a game. He's doing all this stuff. And I was talking to him this morning. He goes, You know what I did? I got on a Fiverr and I gave, I put out a brief I got 30 people that returned the brief to design one page in my game, and I was gonna pay $30 $30 for one page, and he goes, he had 30 people submit he liked two of them. So he gave each person $30. That's $60 that those people got paid. Now obviously he's connected With the new york scene, he knows a lot of designers there. No one wants to talk to him for less than five grand. And I'm like, dude if you're good at what you do, and you believe in this guy's product, and you believe in his vision, and you think it can work, why don't you just fucking do it for free? Right? Just do it do the work. And if you get burned, so what go do 100 more for free? You'll figure something out. Right? So if these people really aren't willing to invest any time in themselves, and not believe in themselves enough to look, I do think that there are companies out there that take advantage people - ask them to do a bunch of stuff for free with no intention on catching them on the back end. Clearly that happens. But I think the message here and I think what you're getting at is like, just fucking ask someone for it or go do it. Go do it. Show them the value. I guarantee you, they're going to pay you because they're not going to want to let you go, right?
John Shin 33:57
It's true, and you've got to let people know that, you've got to convince people, that you're good at what you do number one yes and let them know that what you do can also help them and don't take no for an answer right and be aggressive right as you know if that's what you want to do as a, you know, a consultant or as whatever right and I think the problem with a lot of people I but I've approached so many people in my life just like you have right to help me do something, right. I'll pay you whatever an hour to do something. And I remember this one person, I told her it's a done deal. I know you're very good at what you do. If you want to do this project. You can make some very decent money. It'll be a great supplemental income, not even a little bit but great supplemental income. And I met with this person And I was like, okay, where's the presentation that you are going to show me that I can use tomorrow during my meeting with this one business, okay, because we're trying to partner together. And she tells me, oh, I couldn't put it together. But I can tell you about it and I'm like, "What am I paying you for? I need, I need visuals, I need you to report, okay."
This is for marketing analytics. And I'm like, okay, whatever, we're not gonna work out. Okay. So I needed to do the presentation the next day. So I went home and I put together this report, right? I'm not a marketing analytics person. But you know, I know enough about business to design together. And I did. And what just puzzles me about so many people is when an opportunity comes to them, for some reason, it's a bother. Yeah. Then this goes back to what you and I have talked about so many times 95% if not more of the population. They just want a job. Yeah. I think They want to be a gear, right? They don't want the bigger picture. They don't want opportunities because it's too much of a hassle. Right? Yeah. People like you and me, the idea of only doing one thing, that idea of being locked into something again and again, like a gear turning for 100 years, oh my god. I mean, that idea makes me hurt. Like pain goes through my mind my muscles. When I think about that, yeah, one thing for the rest of my life, it's accountability.
Chris Snyder 36:30
And that's another thing as I got a little bit older, I actually assumed that everybody wanted the same amount of accountability as I did, right. And what you start to learn, like you said, is really they just want to be a gear, because having that accountability produces some kind of reaction within them that says, Well, maybe I can't do it. Right. Like I think that's how athletics help people there's you know, public speaking helps people like get some confidence and understand that they can accomplish things. But if you think about it, you know, our business is really hard because we raise our hands and we say, you know, John, if you come to us and you say, look, the goal is to double the business in the next 12 months in candidly if you can't do that, you're barely going to cover your costs. Yeah. And you know what I do? I say, fucking sign me up for that, bro. because there hasn't been a single business. We haven't doubled in a year ever, never, ever, ever in the whole history of this agency. So it's about the accountability piece. And it's about people actually wanting to do something more maybe than they're capable of and stepping out of their comfort zone. I know that let's talk about Agraria. A little bit only because, well, actually, let's talk about the restaurant business. Only because you are a partner in a restaurant and you have unique insight to give the audience and then we'll move to Agraria. Tell us about the restaurant, tell us how it's been impacted. Tell us what you guys are trying to do. Is it gonna make it like, whatever you want to talk about there? But it's plainly obvious that like restaurants are suffering.
John Shin 38:15
So I mean, I don't even have to be transparent. No restaurant in America is doing well right now. So the restaurant came about, I think four years ago now and so this is another story where an opportunity, right was, was had just by listening and being made available right to that idea that time So, at my daughter's school is a family and the husband is a great LA chef. He's a legendary LA Chef 20 years ago was probably considered one of America's best chefs. And he had a restaurant called Camp in LA with his ex-wife at that time that was the restaurant to go to, in LA and maybe America at that time. So I knew of him, right. I've seen them on TV and we went to a few fundraising events and I got to know him and my wife and his wife got to know each other as well. And they did some fundraising together and, or volunteer work together. And so he and I started talking because I already started the beverage company. I had a gray area, right and, and I had a couple of other businesses that I was trying to spend up. And my parents had a restaurant for 30 years an Italian restaurant, right when we came to America from Korea when I was five years. My father who's never eaten cheeses live. who's never eaten pizza in his life, doesn't even know what spaghetti is. He decided to open an Italian restaurant.
Chris Snyder 39:55
Great idea. True entrepreneur. Do something you have no idea How to do.
John Shin 40:01
Right? I know nothing about that perfect list. So, uh, so I grew up in the restaurant world so I've always loved food and food and been around food as you know, I love eating I I've learned to love cooking. And Mark and I were meaning ones to talk about doing a beverage together. So we were we went to a basketball game, I think you did you come with me wants to. I may have had CS back then. And we went to this basketball game and at halftime, He's like, hey, John, do you not want to talk to you about something? I'm like, Sure. Okay, let's talk about the beverage that we've been wanting to co-create and, and we sit down. He's like, Hey, you know, I've been while I've been, you know, struggling with this restaurant concept and, and I need some help. Long story short, he said, you want to join? Are you interested? I'm like, I don't know. I've got a lot going on. Right. I also at that time was helping start an eyeglasses company. I think I told you about this. Yeah, well ventures. And so, so I, I talked to him I met with his investors over about three or four times during the week. And at the end of that we agreed to a package right. And not a package, I'm sorry, an agreement to partner and become, you know, essentially a new restaurant. And so I took that initial concept brought in a team right people that are great at what they do creative people, brand people and completely reinvented the concept from one thing to another and today is called Prawn. It does very, very well. We did open the second location and the worst location humanly possible and this is all beautiful - we put, you know what, well over a million dollars into the build-out, well over a million dollars. And we put it into a beautiful courtyard right that photographs perfectly that people would love to go on dates no to the problem is there is nobody there, no human beings there, you've been there before.
Chris Snyder 42:18
Do you need human beings to eat food? I'm unclear on that.
John Shin 42:24
It was actually a point of contention with my business partners because choosing that location was was was a part of the problem but anyways so this concept was created and then downtown it just does fantastically well. It's in downtown it's a little restaurant and to market one of the busiest food halls in America, not the world and definitely one that one of the most popular and so when there was the previous brand was really struggling and then once I rebranded it updated the menu redesigned the physical restaurant itself as well. Everything changed. It went from, you know, x to x times 2.5. annually within about two months. Right? Wow. And so so it did very well. So anyways, going from that to now clearly we are closed. We tried the delivery model for about two or three days - we're making nothing right now. Yeah it's a waste of time it's a waste of energy. These guys are working there we're just standing around and sure they're making a few bucks but they can make more frankly off of getting unemployment. Yeah, so we made the very very tough choice to just shut it down and, and let people file for unemployment right if they needed to get other like side jobs during this time. Hopefully they could. And so we had to close the business.
Chris Snyder 43:55
So are you gonna close Prawn permanently or what's gonna happen here?
John Shin 44:00
Well, a lot of it is tied to the food hall because we're inside of a food hall. But the other thing is it's a strong brand is a very strong concept. The plan was to make it a national chain. And we were well on our way at one point. And of course, what's happened now has slowed down the process. So in during this process, look, whenever you go through situations like this, you know, I don't believe in giving up but I do believe in changing things.
Chris Snyder 44:31
And yeah, you got to be smart, you got to be smart about it.
John Shin 44:33
We're changing the company around we're gonna change elements of it, sell parts of it, right, because there's a strong brand component to the cost and will change on the other side of COVID-19. Right? But it's also something that I'm very passionate about. I'll be involved with it for a much, much longer time, especially on the expansion once things settle down again.
Chris Snyder 44:59
Well, that's great to hear. Because I know you know, I've been to that restaurant a lot. I love it. I love the concept. The people are nice, the venue is great. I'd love to see you guys get into, you know, that cloud kitchen model or something that drives awareness and attention and demand around that product. So that's amazing. The other thing I want to bring up is at the beginning of this discussion, you talked about how Agraria was leveraging the channel heavily for top-line sales revenue, obviously bottom line too. So you know, Neiman Marcus is closed, right? That's just one example. You gave a bunch of examples of the channel. The AR agency is involved in the digital side of the business, that's a no brainer, but so what is going on in the channel For you guys, what's going on with getting product? What's going on in the channel? What are you guys going to do at Agraria to change that model because e-commerce is relatively new for you relatively like three, four, or five years, and I would say in it as an industry is, is not as far along as a lot of other industries, right? So in the luxury home goods, space, and also body care space, it's not as far along as some others.
John Shin 46:29
So, what this has allowed us to do and I think I talked to you a lot, a little bit after, you know, the shutdowns happen. Yeah, we'll see all retail brick and mortar in the business our resellers, you know, for April, we're down like 95%, if not more, right. I mean, there are no stores open and selling a lot of things. Some are doing a little bit of their own digital business, but it's basically dead. And so at the time, we had to make some pretty tough decisions, luckily, last year and for the people listening, Chris's is not just a business partner, but he's also a good friend. And so we've been talking on and off for years, about different things. And, and one day we were chatting, and I asked him, you know, Hey, Chris, you know that I'm, at this point, changing Agrarian future to focus on digital versus only retail, and not only but primarily brick and mortar. And the plan for me was in 2020, to have the digital business become the majority of the business, right. Last year. I think we did about
30% of our business on digital, it could have been a lot higher, but we kind of kept it down, right to not jeopardize our retail business too much. This year. Chris and I when we spoke last year, I said look, this year we're going to become a majority digital business and We are well on our way before COVID-19 happened, we put a plan together to expand our reach, right to be more aggressive in our messaging, to modernize our messaging and to release a new product line, which we just did recently. And so when all this happened, I said, Look, we can look at it two ways. Oh my god. Right. And then sure, there's oh my god part we laid off 80% of our manufacturing staff. Clearly, our Intercontinental Hotels business also died. So there's sure there's a little bit of Oh my God, but the first thing that came into my mind was okay, it's a great opportunity for us to shift our business, right. When you have opportunities like this when everybody's going through pain and suffering. It is a perfect time to say okay, no matter what I do, my business is going to suffer anyways, right because we lost so much of our revenue. Let's go full steam ahead at the digital transformation. So starting from launching our new product line, which was in the queue, and luckily, we had a sanitizer as part of it. So the timing worked out perfectly for COVID-19. We launched the new set of products and the sub-brand. We really pumped up our digital strategy. And you know, we've talked about this. I said, Let's work smarter. Right. Let's be less experimental. And let's push hard. Yep. And since we've done that, I think April has been our best month ever from a digital perspective. Outside of like November, right, black Friday's is huge for this brand. So we've had our best non-holiday month ever. Thanks to the partnership and working together. And I think hopefully within about two months, everything will get back to normal and better because now we'll have a more refined digital business to come out of the COVID-19 crisis these times, you know, opportunities exist everywhere. And I think I'm always trying to teach my daughter as well when things are the hardest. When you have trouble. When you're facing difficulty, the only way to come out of it is to pursue an opportunity. Look at what's in front of you. Run faster, run harder, right? Because there's no other option in my opinion, right? What's hard, if you sit on your hands, things will be harder on the other side is better to work hard to run hard, just like in football. Yep. When you see a bunch of guys trying to tackle you in front of you, and you'll be since you're a defensive guy, you'll be on the other side. When you see a bunch of guys. You don't stop moving, you put your head down and you start running harder, right, running stronger. So you can hopefully get a few more yards out of that carry.
Chris Snyder 50:58
Yeah, you gotta have the inertia You got to have the momentum. And at the end of the day, honestly, I mean look, I've been waiting for
John Shin 51:10
not this to happen,
Chris Snyder 51:11
but something that could have happened to clean this up a little bit. And when I say clean this up a little bit, it's been too easy for too long. There's obviously the gap between the haves and the have nots have grown a lot way too much candidly, but there is a piece of grit and toughness. I believe that younger professionals and even older professionals, like I'm reinventing myself, I'm doing a podcast for Christ's sake, right. But at the end of the day, now are the times when it gets tough. Now's the time that you should be getting what you deserve to be paid and you should be doing what you're supposed to be doing. not sitting back on your hands, right. So you know when times are good leaders are responsible for growth right grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow when times are bad leaders are responsible for balance sheet cutting costs, you know, just holding for. And I think honestly, you know you and I know we've already taken our lumps, so to speak, and we've already handled the balance sheet side of the business. The next thing that we need to handle is growth when no one else is looking, so we can just kind of step right through that vortex will be I think you and I will be miles ahead of everybody else. One of the questions I wanted to ask you since I have you on is there's a lot of luxury brands out there that that don't really want to sell on Amazon, and I don't know, I think you had you know your thoughts about it before we got involved. But tell me a little bit about you know, why you guys ultimately decided to bring a luxury brand to Amazon and just give me your thoughts on that one.
John Shin 53:04
It's simple, right? And I think for a lot of people in our space, it was simple in the other direction, which was, hey, we're a luxury brand. Amazon is a mass-market platform. Do we really want to mix with the normies? Right? Do we really want to be a part of Gen pop right? Our products belong in Neiman Marcus and whatever. And, and, and to a certain degree, we held that opinion as well. And we held back our product. And that ad for a very long time, I wasn't involved with Amazon business at all, because I'm like, as I'm not interested, we as a company, were that really driving it, you know, we'll just let our internal team or you know, just like our general team, post things and fulfill orders. And then, you know, I started looking at the business differently last year, and that's when I started talking to you and some other people write about it. How we can do this right? And then I sat there and I'm like, you know what, these massive luxury brands? At some point they're gonna be in the wrong world, right? Yes. They don't want to be selling on the platform that's a gem pop platform. Why the hell not? The world is changing so quickly. There is a point in time where well-heeled people will look down upon shopping at Amazon, you know, who's buying almost everything that they use from Amazon, the billionaire? Right? The billionaire, his wife, convenience, often, right, that's convenient, right? And I remember and I don't think I ever told you this, but I was at a dinner party once of a well-known person. And the husband is an executive. The wife is a producer. And we were talking about Agrarias. She's like, Oh my God. On this I love Agraria and so there's my mother in law and, and I, you know, I still keep in contact with them. And I remember her saying, you know, I wish I bought Agraria more frequently, but I don't because I'm so busy, I come home, I am with my family and that night I spent like 10 minutes on Amazon. That's all I do, right? I'm like, really? I'm like, you know, that's probably a similar story as everyone else and so for me hearing a story similar to that again and again again, just made me realize why the heck are we not taking Amazon Seriously?
Chris Snyder 55:36
Well, think about this. What if your product is so baller and you guys are or are kicking ass from a product standpoint, what the hell do you have to be afraid of? Nothing?
John Shin 55:46
What do we have to be afraid of? Nothing like you said nothing and so. So that's when I called a few people up, right? The first people I called up where people just get our Amazon presence set up. And then I called you and said we to actually make money off it as well. And so we started that what, was it - June of last year something like July? It was after July 4.
Chris Snyder 56:07
John Shin 56:11
And that business went from almost nothing to a good healthy line of business within months. Clearly COVID-19 as affected because they're you know, Amazon's really only focusing on essential products. But it was it literally went from like this for years to boom, and then boom, and then boom, it's really has been amazing to partner with you guys and work with you guys. And for people that don't know this about Juhll. Juhll is clearly a digital marketing agency. And most people think that digital marketing as Google ads and display ads and, and all of that. But Amazon is a realm a world a platform where Juhll can partner with you on and frankly, not just do marketing But make you directly a significant amount of money?
Chris Snyder 57:03
Yeah, I appreciate that. I gotta tell you, we've done a couple of these. And I think the best part about us doing it together is I've, we have the cotton the confidence now knowing that we are getting access to the back end meaning what is shipping and to have true partnership from an executive at a firm that's not just trying to put their thumb on you and squash you and milk you for every single little thing until you get squeezed out of that equation. I mean, look at our relationship - if we don't do well for you guys, we don't do well, candidly, we just don't do well. And that's the way the deal is set up. So, I mean, I love our conversations about hey, you know, how many how much growth Are we going to shoot for this year and I don't have to worry about is this a three-month contract or a 30-day thing? You guys are gonna squeeze all over us get the partnership, right, which I think, you know, you've led the charge on that you've done a great job of that with us and you hold us accountable. And, you know, I'll leave with this. I'll give you the final words, but I think it is possible to work with people that you drink beers with and hang out with and have fun with. I think, John, you and I going into our relationship, you know, we're both like, should we work together? We're good friends. What if we piss each other off? I think we both just realize like, we piss each other off. We'll probably just smack each other in the face, get in a fight, then drink more beer and do it again. So we obviously
John Shin 58:44
don't mess with football players, man. It's
Chris Snyder 58:48
Yeah, it would never ever come to that we're so honest and upfront. We know what we're going after in we handle business for sure. So, John, I'll leave you with the final words here. As we Wrap up. Again. Oh, thank you for the time.
John Shin 59:01
It's been a lot of fun. We, we talk like this. For the people listening. We talk like this all the time. Like when we get together and have casual conversations, we talk like this all the time because just learning from each other learning from the experiences that we bring to the table is always an enlightening thing for me. And I also just enjoy your presence. So doing this was fun. You know, I wish you well as always, I think we're We haven't seen each other in a while because of COVID-19. But I can't wait for this thing to pass. So we can grab a beer again, catch up, and continue to do business. But in the meantime, good luck with this podcast, man. This is uh, this is fun. What?
Chris Snyder 59:47
I'm having a ton of fun. Thanks for being on the show, John. I really appreciate it.
John Shin 59:51
Absolutely. All right. Take care.
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