Ecommerce Fastlane Podcast

Ecommerce Fastlane Podcast, Episode 68

You’re listening to E-Commerce Fastlane, episode 68.

Welcome to E-Commerce Fastlane, the podcast show to help you build, launch, grow, and scale a wildly successful e-commerce company. Listen to real conversations with proven, practical strategies, and success stories. Learn how to drive more traffic, more sales, more profit, and customer lifetime value for your Shopify store.

Here is your host and e-commerce entrepreneur, Steve Hutt.

Steve: Welcome back to the E-Commerce Fastlane Podcast! If you are listening for the first time, this is an e-commerce show where we talk about building and thriving with your store powered by Shopify or ShopifyPlus. New episodes are available each week with your favorite podcast player through iTunes, Stitcher, GooglePlay, and Spotify, or you can also sign up at ecommercefastlane and be notified when a new show is being released.

My guest today is Phil who is the founder of Arka. They’re a company that is literally on a mission to help Shopify brands to delight their customers with custom-printed boxes and to create a memorable unboxing brand experience. If you ship a physical product, chances are likely that you’re not just slapping a label on the plastic side and throwing it in the mail! It’s going to go into some kind of package. Some people just go the regular, brown boxes -- as cheap as you can get -- but with Arka, you’re able to select and design packaging with a few clicks in a Shopify app that connects to your store, we’ll dig into that in a few minutes. You can start with as little as 10 boxes! It’s a really good way to get a fully branded surprise and delight kind of experience with your company and your design. You can check Arka's custom shipping boxes, mailer boxes and custom folding cartons too!

Let’s jump into the show and learn more about how we can delight our customers.Hi Phil, welcome to E-Commerce Fastlane!

Phil: Thanks so much for having me, Steve. 

Steve: My pleasure! So I mentioned at the top of the show, but at a higher level, what does Arka do and what sort of problems do you feel its solving for Shopify brands and store owners?

Phil: Honestly, you nailed it on the head when you were saying that you can’t slap a label on a product and throw it in the mail. Very well said. We make ordering branded and unbranded packaging as easy as designing a tshirt or a business card online: giving merchants access to lowest premiums, lowest pricing, and above all, everything is eco-friendly. We just make it easy to order both branded and unbranded packaging online. To your point about the plain brown box and what is cheapest as possible, honestly, we don’t shy away from that. Whatever is best for your business, we will be able to match ULine’s catalogue when it comes to unbranded. If you’re ready to graduate toward branded and something more sleek, to have your brand stand out (your packages, like a billboard that’s going to stand out for your and your brand) we can help you in that realm, as well.

Steve: That’s awesome! So let’s hear about the journey. It’s not everyday that you hear or know of a founder that is in the packaging business. This is the first time we’ve ever had someone like you on the show. It sounds like a very unique journey, so can you talk about what you believe positions you -- or maybe the founding team -- what’s the desire and expertise to even want to create a custom packaging solution for these commerce companies?

Phil: Absolutely, that’s a great question. When thinking about Arka, or starting Arka, I came from a customer’s perspective and we know the difficulty involved of ordering packaging. We made a platform to make it easy, we used our own experiences to bring that ease for merchants. 

Quick high level background: I had originally worked at Boeing in Seattle. I am an industrial manufacturing engineer by background. I had source packaging at this massive company and thought, maybe, it was so difficult to source at this huge company because it was such a huge company. Fast forward and I have my own department at one of my best friend’s companies that just sold to Allstate, actually, a quarter ago -- it was an on-demand IOS device by that company that had to go in a package. Even in that scenario, it was very difficult. 

It didn’t matter how quick or fast or the lack of red tape at a small start up. It didn’t matter that I was in a big company that had a lot of money to throw at the situation. It really came down to process and technology. Not to be too buzz-wordy, but we’re essentially streamlining that process with the technology that we built based on our prior experiences so that this can be a no-brainer. You can set up a store with just a few clicks on Shopify, why isn’t it just a few clicks to get my packaging? Why is that where the gap has to happen? 

At Arka, we’ve brought it up to the digital age, so to speak, because this is a very old-school industry: GoogleDrive blows their hair back! To make things easier, we built Arka.

Steve: My previous startup was They were a contact lense and eyewear company. We jumped into selling sunglasses. We wanted to have a branded case and we were able to bring those through from China -- with the cleaning cloth and the spray and stuff. On the outside, we said, “let’s have the box arrive glossy and on brand.” I was going to say, “you won’t believe,” because you do believe there are significant challenges in making the minimums that we required back in the day. The second thing, we had to hire a designer because we took proper scaled PDFs, digitals -- whatever they needed -- and there was this bleedover and there was the magenta thing and all the different colors. It was a challenge -- if you’re not the print business per se, these are physically printed. It was a challenge: samples were sent, but they didn’t like them, they didn’t fold up correctly. It was quite the trainwreck to be honest with you, the overall customer experience for us! We eventually got what we needed, but we went through quite a few hoops. Let’s move forward now, that’s been eight to nine years ago, so I guess my question is, to use Arka do you have to be a designer to create or order custom boxes

Phil: One would think, right? We have potential customers knocking on our door saying, “I’m waiting on my designer,” “I’m waiting on my designer to get back,” and “I haven’t hired a designer yet.” I’m glad you brought that up because at Arka, you don’t need a designer. Forget the fact that our website allows you to easily design your boxes -- anytime someone purchases off the platform, they actually get connected to a dedicated designer. Realistically, you can go to our site and check out the completely blank box. That would be fine. Within 24-48 hours of purchase, a dedicated designer follows up with you anyways, just to make sure that you have everything you need on the design of the box before it goes into production unit. Whether you checked out with nothing or decided for something simple or even with a complex design, the designer is still going to follow up with you to double check that everything is 100% ready to go. 

Steve: How do customers actually come up with inspiration for their packaging?

Phil: Either the company they are wanting to build was inspired by something else in the first place, maybe they wanted to emulate that a little bit? But when it comes down to it, a lot of our customers send us inspiration that they found on Instagram or they’ve seen what other businesses do. Our designers then take that inspiration and put together something that follows that client’s branding. That way it’s always unique.

We’re lucky to be living in an age where everyone’s sharing what they’ve purchased, what they’re building, or what’s going on. There’s so much clay to play with out there to come up with something. There is no excuse to not have something that is unique and branded for your business. Honestly, it’s really easy. If you have a logo or a color theme, start with that. I don’t want people to -- because a lot of people come to us and they’re trying to wait for something to be perfect before they launch. I think that’s a mistake! Just get it out there, see what your customers say, and then iterate on that. 

The good thing about -- to throw this little tidbit in there -- Arka is, because we’re using a little thing called “Digital Print,” it’s the same type of equipment you have at home at your own HP printer where you just print a document. What that means is that you can change the artwork. It’s not like your computer or printer have any say whether you’re printing an image or you’re printing letters in a document. To your printer, it’s all the same. Similar to the equipment that we leverage and the technology that we use, you can come back and change your artwork over and over again. 

Just get something out there! Don’t stress too much on having the perfect brand -- I think that pushing something out and seeing how it behaves in the wild is more important than having the most beautiful brand around. 

Steve: I think that’s one of the reasons we decided to go with a branded box for VisionPros because we saw a competitor in Canada -- Clearly Contacts -- and there were a lot of campaigns that were being run about “take a selfie” with your Clearly Contacts box and be entered in a drawing for a lifetime supply. 

There was almost a virality that went along with it. It also helped that they were so busy -- if you went to a Canada Post somewhere to pick up your packages, you could see a whole bunch of those blue boxes out there. People who may never have heard of Clearly Contacts would look out there and say, “Whoa! What’s that all about?” The visual part of it, leaving it on your doorstep -- the same thing happens with food delivery. 

We see these box delivery food companies, fresh food companies all over the place. A lot of times those boxes are out in the trash for the weekly pickup, but it’s still top of mind again, and more branding. It’s so interesting that that’s what’s happening in the world right now!

Phil: Absolutely. It’s becoming table stakes, to be honest, to have some sort of branding. That’s the question we get sometimes, “Why should I upgrade from the plain brown box?” There are several reasons: people get less buyers remorse when they get something in a package that was nicely branded, believe it or not. That’s just one of the few psychological factors that comes through with branding. The one you said, the doorstep experience, you used the exact phrase that we created internally. There’s that engagement and tie back to the product they originally purchased, which almost acts like a foreplay between the business and the consumer. That’s how you get excited, you see that box waiting for you at your doorstep or your mailroom or your P.O. box or wherever you pickup your package. There’s significance behind that.

Steve: It’s almost like you’re making an emotional investment in the product. It’s just like with Apple; they are world famous for their unboxing experience. Everything is so mint and so perfect. Even in the old story of opening up a MacBook and looking at the circuit board, it’s also a work of art inside the laptop that you never see. 

It’s so interesting! It also reminded me, there’s another brand that I manage that is in the subscription snack business. Every month -- which they are not currently doing, but should do -- they produce a 24 page book that goes into the package to discuss the snacks, the origin and history behind what you’re eating this month from your snack box. But their outside box occasionally gets styled nicely to go along with the theme, but it sounds like, as you mentioned, it’s very easy/simple at Arka to go in and with the help of a designer and a little bit of ideas about a theme -- obviously, the Halloween-themed box is out right now, but what happens in December or in January? It’s interesting that it sounds so easy to almost have promotional campaigns running, or a social outreach component right on the box! 

Phil: It’s truly your billboard. It’s an investment worthwhile. What’s the snack company called, just to give the listeners an idea?

Steve: Bokksu.

Phil: We’ve worked with them! With Danny.

Steve: Yes, Danny! That’s really cool that you guys connected. That’s really wicked. Let’s talk about, maybe we can get some feedback from you because obviously you deal with a bunch of entrepreneurs getting their boxes built and this show really does have a diverse range of listeners: if you were going to give some advice today, to early stage entrepreneurs that are selling on Shopify, what would that advice be today?

Phil: It comes back to how we ended the last question on iterating quickly. Don’t keep trying to hold out for the perfect thing. You need to chip out for the perfect thing. Meaning, get something out there, see what the response is. If there’s no response, get something out again. Just keep iterating. Honestly, that’s one of the most important things you can do, versus going for a Hail Mary which is a bit risky and might be disappointing. You might set yourself to be disappointed if you’re just constantly waiting for the perfect thing. 

Steve: Yes, experimentation is key. I have a mantra, “Bend, don’t break.” That’s the one that I tell people a lot. 

Phil: Honestly, that’s great advice. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in to hear that, either. This is something that can apply to anyone creating anything. Whether you’re the hot sauce box of the month business that’s just trying to iterate on the perfect sauce or the box that you’re putting it in. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter at all. 

Steve: What about for those who are listening today who would be considered more of the mid-market? They would have a small team, they’re eager to grow in scale. What do you believe the executive team or the marketing team should be working on?

Phil: To tie back to iterating, and trying to see what feedback you get, it is about getting that feedback. The way you get that feedback is from your customers. The way you talk to your customers is finding out, where do they live in regards to the platforms that they’re transacting on. Focusing on that and adding value to the environment. For example, this discussion that you and I are having right now -- we’re eager to grow, we want people to know what we want to say to them, we’re adding value to our respective environments by having this show. Similarly, if you’re a business that wants to provide value, whether it’s providing content or just reaching out to potential customers and seeing how you can be helpful, all of that adds up. Just don’t get discouraged if it’s not happening overnight. Nothing really does.

Steve: No such thing as an overnight success! I’ve learned that with this show, too. We’ve just rounded a year and 50,000 downloads, but it took a long time to get there! It’s a celebration, to be honest with you. Most podcasts never get to that kind of level and it shows that the partners are helping sharing their stories. I’m glad to have the platform to be able to have that opportunity to be able to interview partners on the Shopify ecosystem like you, to share what it is and what problems you’re solving.

Let’s talk about the future for Arka. Can you share some highlights? What’s 2020 going to look like? We’re at the end of 2019 right now, is there partner alignment? Where do you see the brand going?

Phil: Going back to where your customers live, a lot of our customers live on Shopify. We just had a feature on the Shopify app store. We’re currently at the L.A. The Road, the downtown L.A. Shopify location where there’s a bunch of gurus waiting to help you. That’s what we want to do, to be honest. We look forward to deepening our relationship with Shopify so we can be more readily available to the everyday merchant. That way merchants that live on Shopify can have a full solution for all their needs. As we said prior, you can click around and set up a store on Shopify and I can click around and get the package for your product that you sell on Shopify. Those partnerships and deepening those relationships are what I think are going to make this business successful and in turn, add the maximum impact in adding value to the ecommerce-merchant ecosystem in general. It’s not a nice-to-have. We’re a painkiller, not a supplement. If you’re going to be shipping product, it’s going to go in something, so creating a best solution possible to make it so that any other alternative just doesn’t make sense is a big part of our 2020 roadmap for Arka.

Steve: That’s a nice tweet-able quote, thank you very much for that! We are nearing the end of the show for today, any closing comments or take-aways that you would like to leave with our listeners today?

Phil: Just going back to the first question, just making it easy. But as far as iterating, I think that that is one of the most important things that we can have any viewers leave with. Whether they have an ecommerce store, they don’t have one yet, they’re working on something completely different, I don’t care what it is: iterate quickly, get it out there, and continue to improve on whatever it is that you want to build, regardless of what it is. 

Steve: Like you said, too, let’s at least see what Arka can do. You’re currently buying boxes somewhere, Uline or wherever. The idea is to at least check and see if you want to continue with brown boxes, by all means, continue doing that. But it sounds like, extremely affordably, you’re able to now - with the Shopify app (which we’ll talk about in a moment) select a design. Start basic! Then you can work your way up, if you want to work on expanding on it, go ahead and do that. 


How Can People Learn More about Arka? 

Phil: They can go to the Shopify app store and they can look up “packaging.” We’ll come up. They can obviously look up “Arka,” as well. That is also the URL of our website:

Steve: We spoke offline before recording today, and I’m going to redirect to a listener only promotion. Will you share some of the details of that offer? 

Phil: Absolutely. They’ll get a percentage off for going through you and if they have any questions about it, they can simply message us at Let us know that you found us through ECommerce Fastlane and we’ll give you the 10% off.

Steve: Beautiful. Phil, thank you so much for coming on the show today! Thank you for sharing all this. It’s awesome that you have a great passion for this. It’s proof that I really want that unboxing experience. I know it makes a difference, I’ve proven it in my businesses. Danny at Bokksu has proven it, it works. It’s exciting to have this box come in that’s branded and get this emotional attachment. It’s very cool. Best of luck, and let’s keep in touch.

Phil: Thanks, Steve. I appreciate it, man. 

Need packaging?