Weaving Together The Threads: Our Direct to Consumer Story
An Interview with Ryan Yim, Co-Founder of Weavve
Ryan & Dan having chicken rice where the Weavve conversation first started
I’ve known Ryan since we were six, and we were schoolmates for 11 years. When we started working, we took very different paths. He went into e-commerce as an entrepreneur, and I stumbled into the world of venture capital and tech start ups.
We’ve kept in touch over the last 10 years as our careers and companies developed. As fate would have it, we ended up starting Weavve after exploring a number of projects together. Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Ryan (or Yim as we prefer calling him) on his journey to founding Weavve.
Daniel Tan (DT): Yim, so, how did you end up here?
Ryan Yim (RY): How did I end up here? You mean how did we end up here?
DT: Yes, yes but the spotlight’s on you today so…
RY: My father has been sourcing for products in China and selling them here for the last 40 years. As kids, my sisters and I would follow him for these trips. You could say sourcing, trading and sales is in our blood.
Ryan (third from left) with his father (fourth from left) and their friends
I love products. We’ve observed Dad bring all sorts of colourful and exciting things home - those were some of the things you and I received at all the public and school holidays at school, like a folio for Children’s Day or a table organiser at National Day.
DT: I definitely remember those. I think I might even have saved a few souvenirs over the years. So you got yourself a great education outside of school all those years! When did you decide to plunge headfirst into entrepreneurship?
RY: Well it was a choice after school whether to find a job or… No it wasn’t really a choice. I don’t think I was ever considering finding a job.
I spoke with my Dad, and while he was focusing a lot on the business to business, B2B pre-order space, my intuition was telling me that there was a larger market with which a more retail, B2C approach could address.
What happens when all your stock arrives before your racking does
So I started One Dollar Only, an online store selling stationery and corporate gifts. We started with a hypothesis that we could sell one dollar products at volume. It’s been growing over the years and we’ve also started selling products costing more than a dollar now.
DT: How was the journey like starting your own ecommerce website? What were the takeaways?
RY: At first it was just trying to apply everything I saw my Dad do, everything I believed would work, and all sorts of experiments really. I would try different things and see what stuck. This was an e-commerce business at a time when the South-East Asian ecommerce stores were just starting up; online shopping was like Nokia phones in the 90s.
A few things really stuck with me over time. Firstly, digital marketing is a completely different animal from what we knew as marketing in the 20th century. You could go granular and be very targeted, and cobble together a whole bunch of information to understand your customers in a way the offline world could never address.
Ryan sourcing at the Canton Fair
Secondly, I realised that sourcing is quite an intricate skill. It’s part art and part science. On one hand, you need experience to know what can be done and how different decisions performed in the past, but you also need some creativity and logic to work through this massive decision tree in your mind.
Customer requirements, margins, supplier locations, minimum order quantities, printing techniques, inventory management, online retailing… I could go on all day. All these have to be managed and optimized in the framework of time, quality and costs. And unlike what we’re doing here I’m dealing with a whole range of products…
DT: Well we’re just getting started…
RY: (Laughter) And lastly, I realised through everything I was doing, I was bringing ideas from experiment to reality. It didn’t always work, but then I was learning how to bring things from zero to one. And when to stop, when to quit because either it wasn’t going to be a good business or it wasn’t what I thought it would be.
DT: Great, great. Let’s shift gears a bit. When we started on this, you were very passionate about wanting to change the bedlinen game. Why, of all things, bedsheets?
Dan, you know me, I love all varieties of products. Enjoying activities at home is very important. Cooking, listening to music, watching Netflix, etc. I used to spend a lot of time at home before because I was working out of my home office, and now I spend quite a bit of time at home because of my one year old daughter.
Very early on, Chloe and I started investing in good cotton sheets. We tried a multitude of brands, including a top supplier to hotels. They boasted very high thread counts. These fitted sheets and duvet covers were priced very highly, but had steep discounts to match.
We couldn’t understand why this marketed promise of great luxury with high thread counts felt so disappointing. The quilt cover covers close to the entirety of your body when you sleep and if the quilt cover doesn’t feel good, or exquisite, it kills the whole feeling.
In the end we found some sheets we were relatively happy with, but I always felt there was something more… and with my sourcing expertise, I believed we could find that something more.
DT: Now that you mention it, you have this very strong creator streak in you.
RY: I think all of us do? It’s just how much we choose to engage it, converse with it, and experiment with things. The moment you start arranging objects on your table, around the rooms in your house, you are engaging your creative streak. And it’s not always fantastical, not always groundbreaking, not always haute couture level design.
A quick Ikebana session to prepare for the photoshoot
When we started Weavve, I was really excited to figure out if we could define and manufacture the “perfect sheet”.
DT: Yup, I remember. You apply this in business and your hobbies too.
RY: I mean, we all know instinctively when we see an amazing product, no? It’s about trying to make things a little better for ourselves and those around us. That’s what got me involved in audio systems and photography in the first place, but let’s not go there today.
Ryan hard at work perfecting the colour of Weavve's sheets
It’s really exciting bringing a product to market. And here, we weren’t just finding products, asking for a different design and buying. We were able to go down to understanding what makes a good sheet, what makes a good thread that makes that sheet, and what makes a good fibre that makes a good thread.
When we build a great product or service, it's not about choosing from options A, B or C and uploading choices into a shopping cart. That’s easier but it doesn’t get us to where we want to be at. It’s about going down as far as possible to the constituents, to the components, and building back upwards from there.
DT: Absolutely. And zooming back out from there, you’ve really pushed us to apply this approach to the whole business.
Categorically speaking, if we want to create a great product, everything minute detail matters. What kind of customer service we offer, how each social media touch point reveals a little more about the brand and what we stand for, how we focus on the customer’s journey and not on pushing products.
A big challenge to what we’re doing is that when you’re doing electronic commerce you’ve got to help the customer understand what you’re doing and offering through bytes, not bits. We’re not retailing digital products. We need to take away that friction by providing practical, succinct information. We need to help them discover what they need or want without confusing them with too many choices or too much information.
We’re changing the business model, we’re not switching out some insignificant pieces and doing inconsequential tweaks here and there. We have an opportunity to reconsider and interrogate every assumption of retail, an opportunity for a clean break from previous mental models.
This is direct to consumer. The bed linen has to really impress. The price point needs to be an outlier, off any price-quality or price-perceived value curve. In a positive way, of course. The experience, the brand, the community, content - this is all part of the product. The experience is the product.
DT: Very, very inspiring stuff. I guess that’s why I went into business with you. Maybe one final question. How do you feel about being able to bring to bear so many of your professional skills and hobbies into a single project?
RY: Of course for me, everytime I start something, it’s really exciting. However, the desire to push everything to the extremities of perfection, while that’s exactly what I wake up everyday and get inspired by, it’s also what creates some stress. Stress in a good way, of course, I do something new, I use an existing skill in a new way, I’m pushed to think differently.
Take photography. I mean of course I can point and shoot. Everyone can. I used to do wedding shoots. People mostly. Outdoor shots, well lit ballrooms. Here, we’re in a bedroom or we need a setting that looks like a bedroom. I really don’t like those manicured studio style shots.
Capturing the perfect shot
And I’m not shooting people (with a camera). I’m shooting a duvet cover mostly. What do we put around it? Do we want it looking like someone just did the beds in the hotel room? Is that how our bedrooms look like? Well we took a different approach, let’s see what everyone says.
DT: Ladies and gentlemen this is purpose with passion. Well Yim, I guess I’ve reached the word target of this blog post, any more and no one will get to the end of it. Thank you.