Episode 40

Turning a “Sticky Note” Breakup into a Full-Time Business [Rachel Khona]

by | Apr 21, 2021 | Podcast

What would you do if your significant other broke up with you via a sticky note? If you’re Rachel Khona, you start a business. In the episode today, Rachel is talking to us about her Ecomm stationary company, Crimson and Clover Studio. We discuss how she came up with the idea following her breakup and how she’s managed to grow her company.

Nick (00:23): Welcome back to the Nine-Five Podcast. And I'm your host, Nick Nalbach where we get into the minds of entrepreneurs and people just like you, so you can start, build and grow your own online business.

Nick (00:40): Okay. Welcome back to the Nine-Five Podcast. This is the show where we interview entrepreneurs and business owners to get inside their minds and see how we can better grow your own business. And today on the show, I have a Rachel Khona. Rachel, welcome to the Nine-Five Podcast.

Rachel (00:56): Thanks for having,

Nick (00:56): And did I pronounce that name right?

Rachel (00:58): Yes, you did. Like the coffee Hawaiian, but I'm not Hawaiian.

Nick (01:00): Yeah. Awesome. Well, today we're here to talk about your business Crimson and Clover Studio, but before we get into that, why don't you give the listeners a little bit of an idea of who you are and what it is you do in this online space?

Rachel (01:15): Um, so I am actually a writer and an entrepreneur. I started off as a writer and I've written for, uh, Laura Marie, Claire, Cosmo, New York times, Washington Post and stuff like that. And I became an entrepreneur after my ex dumped me on a sticky note and it kind of spurred me to start Crimson and Clover, which is an e-commerce stationary company. Uh, we sell direct to consumer and wholesale around the world.

Nick (01:40): Awesome. So writing that, that's where you started everything. How long were you writing before getting into the entrepreneurship?

Rachel (01:48): Um, I would say like four years, I think around that time. I mean, I'd been kind of writing on an author, like, you know, high school college, but like as a paid professional for you,

Nick (01:58): How did you, how did you get into some of those bigger publications like that?

Rachel (02:02): No, I just emailed them. I mean, let me clarify. I started off small. I started off, um, knowing I wanted to write, so I reached out to, uh, sort of local blogs and asked them if I would be able to write for free. I'm like Brooke, I was living in Brooklyn. So, um, at the time, so blogs about Brooklyn and things like that, because I knew that, you know, if you're offering it for free for some little blog, they're probably going to say yes. And if I live there, that gives me an in, um, and I also used to work in fashion, so I reached out to fashion blogs, and then I just started amassing clips. And then when I had the clips, like maybe four, I started reaching out to like, kind of want to say real, but like paying publications. Um, they're all real. Um, and then that's pretty much how I got my first byline in cosmos and Inc actually.

Nick (02:49): Okay, cool. So you kind of were able to lean on that portfolio of these, all these blogs and publications that you made elsewhere?

Rachel (02:55): Yeah. Yeah. Pretty cool. Um, you've got to start somewhere, so yeah, no, that's exactly. I

Nick (03:00): Reason I just wanted to ask is because I know a lot of people that start in that blogging space and then don't really know where to go from there. So I just thought that was kind of interesting that you were able to reach out once you had the, I guess credibility and your name was out there, but we're here to talk about your business. And before we do that, that's something I'd like to ask all of the guests that come on my show and that is what would be your superpower. And when I submit, when I say superpower, I mean like, what is that thing that you think you're just a rock star at? Or you think you just crush it in this area? So what do you think your superpower be?

Rachel (03:32): Um, I think I actually let's actually randomly occurred to me the other day before you asked this question, but I feel like it, I feel like it's to make people laugh, which I feel a little bit presumptuous saying, cause there's like people that like exist, like Chris rock or Dave Chappelle. So I'm like, all right. Or Allie Wong. So I'm not like that. But I think as far as writing and um, my company goes, that's kind of always been my thing. And that's what people gravitate towards. Like when I try to write more seriously or I try to make products that are, you know, more touching, it just falls flat on its face and people just always come back to the humor. So I feel like that's my superpower.

Nick (04:09): Awesome. I like that your own spin on your own writing. I like that. So you kind of touched on this in your intro, but this, this business came out of a breakup on a sticky note.

Nick (04:23): Talk to me about this, um,

Nick (04:25): You this a little bit. What, how did this all happen?

Rachel (04:28): So, um, my, so my ex used to leave me these sticky notes around, um, his apartment. And they would say cute things like you. Um, I love you more than, than, than all the stars in the universe or you're in some really silly ones. He was like, you're my favorite little tomato. Cause he like loved tomatoes. So, but he'd put them like everywhere, like in the coffee maker in the morning. So I'd open it. And it would be like in there, or like in the fridge, like in a carton of eggs. And then I was like, well, I want to get in on this action. So I started leaving him sticky notes, but mine were more like ridiculous and sort of, R-rated not all R rated, but just kind of ridiculous. Like I had one that was like, you make me want to shave my legs.

Rachel (05:07): You know, I love you Like a crack whore loves crack, um, things like that. And so he was laughing at him. He stayed with the more romantic stuff, but I just kept going, kept going. And I started making lists on my phone of like potential future ideas. Um, cause we really got into this whole sticky note thing, but you know, then things got a little Rocky and um, he like broke up with me and the sticky note, he left like all my stuff in my apartment with a sticky note. And we were like about to move in together too. And um, so like all my stuff and just sticky notes, it, I can't do this. And at the time I flew into a rage and it was like, Oh my God, I'm going to like kill you. But not literally, obviously of course, but I was just going crazy.

Rachel (05:48): So I feel like I need to put that disclaimer out there. So he's also six three. So I don't think that would've happened, but I, so I took, I just got so mad. I threw every, all of his, all the notes in the trash, which except for one, which I found later. But, um, so anyway, fast forward we're broken up and I was looking at my phone and I was like, I have so many good ideas. Like these are great. Like what am I going to do with these future sticky note ideas? So then I was like, well, what have I put them on greeting cards? And so I made greeting cards. I put them on Etsy. I knew nothing about business, about, uh, Photoshop, you know, how to design like absolutely nothing. So I designed them in Microsoft word, which seems ridiculous now. And I actually printed them out and photograph them.

Rachel (06:28): Like, I didn't know, you could just make a mock-up on Photoshop. So I photographed every single card, like had a full on photo shoot and then uploaded them to Etsy. And it took me like forever, but they started selling kind of right away. And then I got a feature in Cosmo, like four months later. And then I ended up in Ricky's, which is a big chain store in New York. And they bought for like 25 stores or something like that. They did a test run and then they bought for 25 stores. So yeah, that's how I started. And I feel like it just sums up my whole thing of dating something negative and kind of laughing about it. Like, so

Nick (07:03): Yeah, I mean, for one, I'm sorry that happened. That's terrible. That's great. Now that it all happened, it went down that way, but yeah, it's awesome that you're able to turn that negative into a positive and create this business out of it now. So when you were, when you were writing these sticky notes, there was no idea of a business. It was just, you were jotting down sticky note ideas, just

Rachel (07:26): No, no concept of like starting a business at all. I didn't even think, like I had any business acumen in me really. I just didn't even, it was like the furthest thing from my mind.

Nick (07:36): That's crazy. So, okay. You said you had no design, no experience at all going into this. How did you start producing these things? Obviously you made them in a word you said, but then how did you get them all printed and shipped out to the customers?

Rachel (07:51): Anything from home initially, I, you know, Googled like best printers for cardstock. I mean, Google was like my best friend at the time. It still is honestly, and just bought a printer and started and bought. So I got like different samples of cardstock and envelopes in cellophane and started, um, just like testing them out. And then I ordered cardstock and then I ordered, I mean, I learned a lot about cars and card stock. Like it was crazy. Like I knew more about paper than I ever thought I was gonna know. And like, you know, some people like cut their own paper and then you can buy them precut and stuff like that. So, um, I just started doing that at home and shipping everything through Etsy. I mean, my, all my sales were through Etsy and I was like, kind of doing like the labels and everything through them. And then, um, when I got into Ricky's I was like, all right, I can't produce this myself. So I Googled, you know, I think just printers, like paper printer or whatever, assigned printer and literally contacted like people all over the United States and finally found a printer that I liked and they seemed reasonably priced so well.

Nick (08:47): And you're, you're talking like outsourcing, like, yeah.

Rachel (08:50): Okay. So order for like the big ones, I was still doing that Etsy ones by myself. So when you got those big orders, like,

Nick (08:56): What were the quantities that they were trying to get from you?

Rachel (08:59): Rick Keith was probably ordering maybe like, like 50, 50 cards for a store or, well, they would come in sets of six, so probably at 48 or something like that. Um, and then for the holiday rush a little more, so it'd be like 48 cards, times 20 stores. But then the thing about them is they each kind of remember they had like specific, like there was a little bit of logistics in it, so it was kind of like out of my scope about like putting the label a certain way and shipping it to, you know, a certain location, like writing the store number on it. So, um, you know, I ha I, the good thing about having a printer was that they were a little more versed in that kind of stuff. Um, they just needed a little bit of direction from me, but they were able to do

Nick (09:38): Nice. Okay. So once, once the cards started working and I was picking around on your website and you got a whole line of products, how quickly of a bill that, how slowly of a bill was that once the card is started going and you were pushing them,

Rachel (09:52): It took a while. Actually, I want to say it took like maybe two years or so, because it was a slow build up. I still had a full-time job. So I, it was hard for me to really focus on other, like having new products. Like at some point in that time, I was like, I need to expand outside of cards. Cause this is going pretty well. You know? So once I quit my job, that's when I started to go like, all right, well, what else can I make? And I started to make like tote bags and candles. And my thought was pretty much like anything I can put words on as I'm a word person, not really like, uh, you know, a designer per se. So, um, I thought anything I'd put words on and I kind of just gravitate towards things. I like, you know, I've had people try to, or sales reps try to push me into certain categories and I'm just like, Hmm, that just doesn't resonate with me. Um, so I just went with stuff that I liked that seems to work. Um, in spite of there

Nick (10:42): Terrible advice. I mean, you had to go with, what's working, you see as a work and then people are telling you, it's not going to, I mean, kind of gotta go with your gut there.

Rachel (10:52): You told me the candles wouldn't work and the candles are literally like my best seller, so Oh really? Yeah. They're like, no, one's going to buy, um, you know, a candle for that much money. If it's funny, like if it's funny, it has to be like cheap, like sell it for $10. And I was like, no, dude, as I was trying to make a nice candle, I wasn't trying to make like a, I don't know, like a chotsky cheap sort of, I don't know, Spencer's type of thing.

Nick (11:14): Right. Yeah. What was that experience like working a full-time job and trying to kind of build this up. Did you know you wanted to start focusing on this full-time eventually or was it just kind of picked up as a hobby, some additional income?

Rachel (11:27): I really wanted to quit my job for like years, but didn't know how I thought maybe it'd be through the writing. And then after it started to pick up like maybe six months into it, I was like, maybe I can quit my job. Maybe I could do this full time, but I wanted to make sure I saved up enough money. I wanted to make sure I got enough stores and like really make sure like all my ducks were in a row, so to speak, but rather than just like leaving, you know, I wanted time to see if it was a viable, um, company. And then I think it was at sea, they opened like a wholesale division, which they've since gotten rid of. But I, so I was experimenting with that and I was getting good response there. So I figured, you know, now's the time. And then I, like, I asked the universe for a sign. It sounds silly, but I'm totally into that stuff. And basically I had a huge altercation at work and I was like, Oh, this is the sign I need. And so

Nick (12:15): Straight up, I mean, it had been brilliant

Rachel (12:18): In my mind. Um, well, the other thing is I was burning the candle at both ends. So I would like come home from work at like six 30, eight, and still have to like work out and have a social life. And then I would, and I was still in writing, so it was like copywriting and writing. And then I was still packaging stuff. So sometimes I wouldn't go to bed till like two o'clock in the morning. And then, you know, I'd have to get up at like, you know, seven, the next day to get ready for work. And my workspace didn't have a private office. Like we were all in a big open table and my boss was sitting right next to me. So it was really hard. Like I had to pretend like I was alert and I was not many days. So I was, it was just, it was becoming like a struggle, but he was totally cool when I quit. He actually offered to help me. So there, it was, there was like no bad blood. He's pretty cool.

Nick (13:00): How many hours do you think you were putting into the, your business on the side? Like after work hours?

Rachel (13:07): I want to say probably like 15, at least if I'm getting, if I were to guess, cause I was working Saturdays and Sundays during the day. Um, plus after.

Nick (13:17): Yeah. And if you're staying up till 2:00 AM and grinding away at it. Yeah.

Rachel (13:20): Yeah. It was, it, it was tight for, for a minute, but

Nick (13:25): So when you actually quit the job, what were the feelings going into you have, you have this business that you started, but at this point, were you making enough money where you were good to go or was there kind of some nerves going into starting a new thing, quitting your job?

Rachel (13:40): Nervous. I was definitely like, like crying my last day of work. Like what have I done? I mean also, cause I was like saddled with my coworkers, but it was also like, what have I done? So yeah, the first month was really kind of scary, like waking up and being like, Oh, I've got to hustle. Like I can't, you know, mess around on Facebook. Like I used to at work. Like I have to like do stuff. I mean, not that I didn't work, but you know what I mean? So that was scary was, uh, you know, not having a paycheck, not having anyone, you know, natural 401k. I had to pay my own health insurance. So I really like scrimped that first month. Like I was eating like ramen, like not a lot of going out for me. I was literally, uh, like if I would go to a bar to meet a friend, I would bring wine and like a little bottle, uh, like a swell bottle or something or a little water bottle and kind of like sneak it and pour it.

Rachel (14:25): Like I was in all kinds of stuff. Cause I was like, I can't spend any money right now. But the funny thing was like, the universe came through for me because like a week after I quit, one of my old clients was like, Hey, I saw that you quit. And we would love to have like a copywriter, um, on retainer for a year. So that like I was on retainer with the company for a year and that was covering like, you know, my mortgage and my expenses. So it was like a pretty nice like base and kind of relief as far as like, okay, we've got that. So like, I don't know. It almost made it easier to focus on the company knowing that I had that like safety.

Nick (15:01): Yeah. No that makes sense. I guess, fast forward to now that time when it was nervous, like, am I going to be able to pull this off now? Now you're doing it. What's what's the feeling like now that you've got this business, that's it seems like it's going pretty well for you.

Rachel (15:16): Um, well now it feels great now it feels like I did it. I'm my own boss. This is like amazing. And um, now with people working for me and um, like they're all really

Nick (15:26): Great team, do you have, um, they're all remote.

Rachel (15:29): Um, but you know, I like the social media person. Um, I have like my warehouse manager, the sourcing guy who like, you know, helps me source stuff from like various places marketing. I mean, that's the cool thing about like now is like, you can just make a whole remote team and which worked out great during COVID because yeah, because you can't go to work and then I have a warehouse, so they're doing all of that, you know, packaging, shipping, um, all that's automated. So, uh, yeah, it's been, it's been really good and it's also been like F the haters, you know, there's been a few of them and I'm just like, ah, ha like, it's great.

Nick (16:07): Is that team, are they your employees or is it something that you outsource or how does that work?

Rachel (16:13): So we're seeing it right now. I mean, I'd love to maybe have employees one day, but I mean, right now I've done pretty well with just hiring freelancers and I've listened to a lot of other entrepreneurial podcasts to see like, well, when did they hire somebody? Like when is the right time? And, um, I don't know if I'm, I don't know if lucky is the right word, but I feel like I've been doing pretty well so far, like with how it is. So

Nick (16:37): That was exactly what I was just gonna ask you is when you started actually hiring freelancers to help you out. Cause I know that's a, that is a big question that a lot of people have, they got this business it's starting to grow and are times obviously being consumed with everything, especially solo entrepreneurs. At what time did you start saying, okay, I need to start bringing people on.

Rachel (16:57): Well, when I realized that someone would do it better than me and that I would save time. So those were the two most important factors. Like my social media person, social media is like something I feel, I feel like finally kind of gotten somewhat of a hang on kind of, um, for many years of trying to figure it out. But you know, I'm still in that. I'm like, it's not necessarily like something I would do if it weren't for business. It's not something that like comes naturally to me. So having someone helped me with that and translate what I'm want to say into an image and a caption and a concept is, is great. Like, so that was huge. And like, since I've hired her, um, you know, my social media has like really taken off. So that was my money well spent.

Nick (17:42): Was that the first hire?

Rachel (17:45): Actually, no, I had a virtual assistant before then just kind of doing random admini kind of stuff. Um, but she was like kind of the first like skilled hire. I think that I made like, I've kind of cycled through a few virtual assistants, but guess she was the first person that like, was doing something that I couldn't really do on my own. Um, and she's still with me and she's great.

Nick (18:05): That's awesome. It's something that I think when people do start thinking about hiring someone, it can be very difficult coming from a place where you are doing everything, you got social media, the marketing, like managing the entire business itself, going to hire someone to kind of get that feeling like, Oh, I'm going to have to trust this person to do it for me. I think that's something that a lot of people have a tough time giving up on. It does come time to hire.

Rachel (18:31): Yeah. Yeah. It's definitely hard at first because you want to make sure they're doing what you want them to do and doing you're representing the company properly, but there's really no way to scale unless you do. Like, it's not possible to, I mean, if you like the, I was just listening to something about swell. I'm like, you don't have, I think they do like 20 million in business. I think. I mean, like you don't get to that level with like, I'm gonna do it all myself, you know, like you kind of have to hire somebody. So, and it's definitely helped me scale to kind of take off pieces and go like, all right, you do this, you do this. It's it's helps get a little a lot.

Nick (19:01): And you, you actually said something very specifically when you were hiring for social media manager, it was something that you felt you weren't good at and that, you know, someone can do it better than you. And I think that's a great place to come from when you are looking to hire and look at the things that either take up the most of your time, where your time should be spent elsewhere, or it's something that you feel someone could do a lot better job than you, because now you might be crushing it from the like managing the orders and getting them leads and that type of thing. But this person can crush it on social media. And now together, you guys are crushing it together.

Rachel (19:33): Yeah, exactly. And I, I don't know if other entrepreneurs have this where like there, sometimes your ego can come in and it's important to just realize like, these are my strengths, these are not, and the ones that are not, it's just more effective to have someone do it, like accounting hate it. Like don't want to do it, you know? And it takes me more time when I do it anyway. Cause I hate it so much. So it's just so much better. And it's actually really relaxing to not do things you don't like.

Nick (19:58): Right. Have you, have you tried outsourcing or to this point, have you outsourced any tests that you do enjoy that you had to kind of give up so you can focus elsewhere?

Rachel (20:08): I mean maybe one day. I mean, the thing that I like to do is come up with new ideas for products. So like all the designing, coming up with the phrases and stuff like that. I like to do that myself. That would be hard for me. And maybe like one day, if it's like a big team or like I take a step back or something, I would do that. But like the company so about like me and like my voice and my story. So I feel like that would be hard to do. I mean, people have approached me and be like, can we write for you? And I'm like, Oh, I don't know. Yeah. It feels kind of weird.

Nick (20:38): It's kind of me. Yeah. It sounds like it's more of a personal brand than just a business.

Rachel (20:43): Yeah, yeah. It kinda is. So yeah. I mean, at least now it is so be right. I'm going to

Nick (20:48): Shift gears just a little bit on you here. When you were really starting to gain traction, you start, you said you started on Etsy. Is that where you started gaining a following from Etsy specifically? Or did you start putting up a website or how did you actually attract people in to see steady growth?

Rachel (21:06): So I think it was a great place to start, um, just to kind of test the market and see if anyone actually liked any of this. But you know, it's, I think personally for me, it's a hard place to really grow because you have no control, you don't have customer emails, you can't brand anything you, the way you want it to et cetera, et cetera. So my friend actually was a web designer, like among many other things, but um, he's like, you really got to get your own website. And I at first was like, well, who's gonna see it. And he's like, just trust me. So I did, he set up a Shopify site for me and um, you know, it took a minute. Cause then I had to like learn about marketing, which I hadn't done with Etsy. Cause it was like its own thing, both my own website. I'm like I have to drive people to it. So then it was like learning about, you know, advertising online and like email newsletters and like what has the best open rate and the best click rate and like what colors make people want to shop? Like really getting granular with it, to, you know, drive the website and then social media, of course also as well.

Nick (22:06): Do you think social media would have been your biggest driver to your website once you transitioned out of Etsy?

Rachel (22:12): Yeah, definitely. Because I just feel like that's like where we are in like planet earth right now. Like everyone is like on their phone, 24 seven, you know, now like TikTok is there. So, you know, and I feel like everyone kind of has their favorite app. So you're, you're at least getting people somewhere. Um, whether it's on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or like Twitter, you're getting them somehow. And it's just like better brand awareness. Like I don't know how I would've done it for the internet, honestly. Like it would be a lot of like literally pounding the pavement, like going up to stores and be like, can you sell my stuff? Like, I don't know how much direct to consumer you could do before the internet. I'm like, can't even conceptualize it. I'm like, what would I do put like an ad in like the newspaper? I don't know

Nick (22:57): Now when he, yeah, no, it's definitely opened up a lot of like the barrier to entry now for a lot of these things that would have been next to impossible years ago is so easy now. And yeah, the Internet's a crazy place now with the Etsy shop, when you transition to your own website, you said you don't have control within Etsy. And I absolutely love that because it's something I've talked about briefly on the podcast here. A lot of people that I interact with on social media, they build these businesses up on social media and that's the only place it lives. They get all the leads, all the traffic's coming from social media and the, they have nowhere to go on their own kind of platform. So you're at the mercy of that platform. And I think Etsy's the same way. It's like you said, it's a good place to start, but at some point you have to transition out and build your business on your own

Rachel (23:46): Land. Yeah. 100% you do. I mean, they control everything, but yeah, well you don't have anything. That's fine because people find you that way. So, you know, it's cool. And I got a lot of press that way too, because like, you know, somebody found me on Etsy and then they like put something on Buzzfeed. So, and I think a lot of editors probably do go to Etsy to like when they're doing their gift guides, like, you know, type in whatever. And then they feature a bunch of small businesses. So yeah, definitely cool. But yeah, you need to branch out at some point if you're really want to scale. I mean, if you want to just, I don't know, have a hobby,

Nick (24:17): What kind of, how many customers do you think you had at the point when you started building your own websites?

Rachel (24:21): Oh, um, I don't know. I would say I probably had around, I want to say 5,000 sales, so wasn't like a ton, but I felt like it was enough to

Nick (24:33): Hmm. What do you think contributed the most to the growth of this company from the beginning to now? Obviously you've gone through a lot of stages of kind of built up on top of each other, but was there any one thing that once you started doing it, you're like, wow, this is kicking. We need to double down on this.

Rachel (24:50): Um, it's mainly focusing on like all the marketing aspects. Like I think that for a lot of entrepreneurs and like, you know, I was that person at one point as well. There's this like, idea that like something big is going to come, like if I'm just like on TV or if I'm on the right magazine or if the right influencer finds me and then, you know, it'll just blow up and that's not really the case. I mean, it could be if you're on shark tank, I mean sure. Obviously, but I actually kept saying that I was like, I just need like, someone like really big, like the fat Jewish to F to feature me in Instagram and turns out, um, F Perry. I don't know if I can curse, but, um, people will know who F okay, Jerry, um, he randomly found one of my cars in the store or something.

Rachel (25:32): I'm not entirely sure, but featured one of my cards on his Instagram. And he has like, I dunno, 30 million followers, I think something like that. So that was like major. I mean, my sales went through the roof, but at the end of the day, like that didn't suddenly make my company what it is today. It was a great blues, but you kind of almost need to like, just keep layering all these different things. So it's hard to say there's any one thing, like I've done Google ads, Facebook ads, Instagram ads, I'm trying to do TikTok ads. I just started a Twitter, like, like basic email marketing, you know, right before COVID hit, I will have like a bunch of events I was going to do. And I was like, okay, now's the time to get into like events. And I had a friend who was going to hook me up with like this big LGBT event in LA. And I was like, Oh my God, guests, that will be amazing. Um, that's my crowd. So then code it so I can do it. But hopefully once that's over, I'll get back into like doing events and maybe like coworking spaces and things like that. So I feel like it's just about sort of like spreading yourself everywhere or at least what works for you. And I want to start doing like, kind of like an, a brand ambassador thing, sort of, I'm still working on the details with them.

Nick (26:39): Uh, that was actually going to ask that when you talked about FuckJerry, if you ended up going like the influencer marketing realm at all, or if it was primarily just the social,

Rachel (26:48): I did do a few steps, a few things with influencers, but it's kind of funny because the influencers I haven't paid for I've had the most ROI. So I'm like, I don't know if I'm just not, I think I probably just haven't found the right influencers and I probably need to do that. But like Fletcher was one of them where like my sales were crazy. And then somebody from like, Oh, it sounds so bad. Uh, some reality show, I don't know which one, to be honest, I don't watch reality shows, but somebody from one of those shows who had like a bazillion followers, she reached out to me and she's like, Hey, if you send me some candles, I'll post them on my Instagram for free. And I was like, Oh, sure. So, you know, cause usually they charge like a major fee. And so she did that and like, I got a ton of stuff from that.

Rachel (27:29): And then like there was another account that I'd been, we'd been collaborating as far as my writing was concerned. And so I sent her my sticky note, like story and she posted that, but then people loved it so much. They started following, uh, Crimson and Clover. So, um, yeah, which that was crazy. I got like, I don't know. I think I got like 300 followers and like, I don't know, a few hours or something. It was something like nutty like that. So yeah, it's been, it's been a mixed bag. I think it's just like finding like the right, you know, I don't know, influencer demographic, that kind of thing.

Nick (28:02): Mm. I love how organic, everything kind of seemed to roll for you. Like there wasn't, I don't know. It wasn't like everyone thinks that there's going to be this massive explosion out of one event. And it's just going to send your business to the moon. But what you're saying here is you actually took slow gradual steps. Like we talked about and just kind of one on top of the other that led to more opportunities and more opportunities. And I just, I love how organic that it was. Cause everyone thinks it's an overnight thing. Everyone wants to have that overnight success and see that.

Rachel (28:31): Yeah, they totally do. And I'm like, that's just not for me how it works. Like I said, unless you are in shark tank, which those people seem to have overnight success, but yeah, no, it's, it's like, and the thing is, I feel like if you rely on that overnight success thing, then you could end up being like a one hit wonder, you know? And you know, like I've had, you know, I had one item that was really popular. It was like a tote bag that said whole bag on it. So yeah. Whole bag. And so, and it was selling really well. And then, you know, it starts to dip down and then like, you know, you gotta promote something else. And then like, I mean, people are still buying it, but it had like this huge like burst, but then it dies down like that's normal. So I just feel like it's important to not rely on like one thing, whether it's a product or, Oh, I'm going to get a big piece in this magazine or something like that.

Nick (29:15): Right. So what, what do you have planned for Crimson and Clover now? Where do you see this business going from where you're at at this point? Definitely.

Rachel (29:23): Obviously more money, but I guess that's obvious. Um, but then also just like more, more products like I'm released. I just released some candy, um, for Valentine's day, like the little Valentine's hearts, but I want to do more candy and then, you know, it'll be about what it says on the outside, stuff like that and doing more beauty stuff. So bath bombs, um, those have done well so far and then like bath salts or something I'm wanting to get started this year. Um, definitely expanding a beauty. I feel like there's a lot of room there and then, you know, seeing how COVID goes, like I would like to do more party stuff. It's just that, you know, I mean he was having a party now, like not many people. So, um, cause I, at one point I was going to do cocktail napkins and like I was trying to find like some sort of eco-friendly balloon that I could do that would like seeing something funny, you know, once you blow it up, but um, all that kind of stuff when I'm pause. So hopefully like after we're normal, I can bring

Nick (30:17): How many products do you think you have?

Rachel (30:19): I think ski wise, I think I have like 300 approximately. I mean, I'm fading. Some of them I'm fading a lot of them out or retiring a lot of them. Um, and focusing on the ones that really sell well and want to add more candles to the mix. Cause those do really well, but yeah, something like that. But I also realize with scaling, like it's time to like cut down some of these things like, you know, before I was just like, well, somebody's buying it so that's money. So who cares? But then once I really started to think about it, I was like, this doesn't make any sense because you're paying for something that sells slowly, like that's tying up your money. So

Nick (30:54): How, I'm really curious how you're going about finding these manufacturers and everything because the 300 products, I mean, your, your products range greatly from like the cards to the tote bags, to the candles. Like you have a wide selection. So how did you go about managing the manufacturing side of things?

Rachel (31:12): Most of the skews are actually the cards. So it, it almost sounds worse than it is. Cause like actual categories. I probably only have like five, I'd say off the top of my head. Um, cause they have like candles, the beauty, which is the same people, cards, jewelry, tote bags, and like cosmetic bags. I think I'm sure I'm missing something. Pencils cancels also. But I just been Googling honestly. I mean, sometimes it's a lot of Googling, Googling a different phrase and what I thought I needed to Google and the pencils were hard to find like I, that took me forever, which it seems like it should be so obvious and so easy, but it wasn't because they don't have the ones that I liked and nobody wanted to print profanity. I was like, how is this possible? So it was very hard to find people that were willing to write, like eat a Dick on a pencil. So I finally finally got around to that, but yeah, just Google, but now I have like a, uh, uh, a sourcing person to help to start maybe looking at China for certain things, because there's just certain things like it, it's just going to be cheaper and easier to do in China. Although, I mean, I prefer to keep as much of it as possible in the U S but I mean, again, the day people don't really care to pay for made in the U S like they, they say they do, but they,

Nick (32:23): Right. Yeah. I've talked with a lot of people about manufacturing overseas and I've looked to a couple of different areas. It sounds like logistically is everything right now you have in the U S

Rachel (32:33): Right now is Neo is except for like necklaces, which I will be, that will be transferred to. Okay.

Nick (32:40): I had heard logistically sometimes it can be kind of a mess getting started.

Rachel (32:45): That's kind of why I put it off for so long because I was just like, Oh, this is like, kind of, it's messy. Um, and you obviously have to hire, I mean, not higher order, larger quantities. So you have to kind of know that it's going to work. I think at least for me, I'm like, I'm not going to buy 10,000 units and just cross my fingers. So, um, there's that element too. And then there's certain things like, I don't know that I want to get the bath products from China. I, I feel like I wouldn't trust the safety element of it. And then that would be like a whole rabbit hole. I'd have to go down or have the sourcing person do. And I just don't know about how I feel.

Nick (33:19): Yeah, no, that's, that's a good point. I didn't even think of that.

Rachel (33:21): Yeah. I think in the candles, cause I'm like, well, I don't know what I mean. I like soy wax is that's like the eco-friendly one, but I mean, they could say it's soy wax, but it could be anything,

Nick (33:30): Right? Yeah. You don't know what you're getting, but it's, it's interesting. It's going to be a fun adventure to embark on for you.

Rachel (33:38): Yeah, exactly. And like, you know, when I, as the company grows, it might be something that I might be forced to start doing.

Nick (33:46): So I want to kind of start wrapping this up here. What would be some through all this experience of starting and growing this brand, what would be the number one tip you would give to others that are looking to get into the online business e-commerce space?

Rachel (34:03): I would say, well, it's not easy. So be ready to hustle and do everything and anything you have to do. And like, I'm going to say don't be lazy, but that's like so vague. But I mean, like, you know, I mean, I saw somebody the other day in a entrepreneur Facebook group posts. How do you schedule ups pickup? Like guys, you don't need to sorry, full notification. You don't need to ask a Facebook group how to schedule ups, pickup, like hustle, like figure it out, Google, you know, learn on your own, get a book, like educate yourself and be prepared to like, sometimes things are gonna suck. And my other tip would be like, marketing. Think about what your customer wants and not about what you want, because if you just think about what you want, like nobody cares. And I wouldn't want to follow an Instagram account. That's not giving me something like visually interesting or like an interesting caption or just something that appeals to me. So it can't just be about you

Nick (34:56): All the time. I love that those are great tips right there. Just to follow up with that, the customer, I love that. Knowing what your customers wanting to know, what your audience wants, how were you getting that feedback? Did you just straight up ask them?

Rachel (35:09): I listen when people, you know, write a review and it can be hard because sometimes as a small business owner, you take things personally and you're like, nah, that's not how it was. But I try to, I mean, not that there's like a ton of like negative feedback. It's mostly positive, but, um, I did change my candle labels because people, I had like a distressed font on there and people kept thinking that the font wasn't like, like it wasn't printed correctly. And no matter how much I like in the description, like these are just distressed fonts, like people were going to confuse. So there's still a distressed font. It's just a different one. And that seems to have fixed the problem. Um, but the other ways, not just by directly asking, uh, customers, but just by like, thinking about them as far as like making a social media post or thinking about them as far as like, Oh, like what would make the website like fun to look at?

Rachel (36:01): Like, so I added like, you know, little confetti sparkles in the background of the home page or, you know, like making the buttons like pink, you know, St making a rewards program. But like, you know, my email newsletter, like I put like a funny, like, you know, GIF in there of, you know, this like lady that looks like one of the golden girls, like dancing was a martini, like just little things like that, where I'm like, there's like Joan never woods program. But I try to just think like, what would make them like happy when they read this email or look at this post? Like what would make them like laugh or giggle? You know, that's kind of always my Mo so, you know, whereas like, I think initially when I first started, it was just more like, well, I'm going to put a picture of this card up. So people buy it, which is like very different from like, how can I make people laugh? And I think that switch really, um, helped my growth. Yeah.

Nick (36:50): That makes total sense. Well, Rachel, we're going to wrap this thing up here. Where do you want people to go to get in touch with you or to find Crimson and Clover? What social media links website, where do you want people to go to check you out?

Rachel (37:05): So the website is just Crimson and Clover studio.com and they can shop there. And then all of our social is on there, but you can also check out Crimson and Clover studio on Facebook, on Instagram, it's Crimson and Clover underscore studio, same thing for TikTok with the underscore and then on Twitter, um, we are Crimson and Clover double zero for like two zeros.

Nick (37:30): For everybody listening, there will be a show notes after this episode. So if you want to go get access to any of these links, you can go to the show notes and they will all be there for you. Oh, Rachel, I want to thank you for coming on the show and talking about your experience of growing this business. I think it's a interesting story of how it all kind of came about, and I just think it's awesome that you've been able to grow it into what it is now. Thank you so much

Rachel (37:55): For having me. This was, this was fun.

Nick (37:57): Yeah. And good luck with your future products and continuing to grow this thing. I'm excited to see where you take it.

Rachel (38:04): Awesome. Thank you so much.

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Additional Resources and Links Mentioned

If you haven’t done this already, go leave a review of the Nine-Five Podcast over on iTunes!


Show Notes

Rachel Khona is a writer and entrepreneur who has written for many large outlets such as, The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Playboy, The New York Times, and many others.

After her boyfriend broke up with her on a sticky note, Rachel found an opportunity to create an ecommerce brand around the silly sayings and sticky notes her ex boyfriend and her would write to each other.

After starting out with greeting cards, Rachel set her sights on more products for the Crimson and Clover Studio brand and hasn’t looked back since. Crimson and Clover now has a large selection of products with hilarious captions and sayings.

In this episode, we discuss her story of getting started, and how she has managed to build and grow her brand.


Key Takeaways and Topics from the Interview


Throughout the episode, Rachel shares a lot about her experience of transitioning from her 9-5 job to focus on her business full-time.

Going from a hostile work environment to running her own business came with challenges, but she has accomplished so much since taking the leap.

Here are a few of the big takeaways from the episode:

  • Trust your gut – there were many people that tried to tell her how to run her business, but Rachel found something that worked and stuck with it
  • Use established networks and platforms to validate – if you want more exposure for your brand, you need to find ways to validate your idea. Rachel started on Etsy, and once she was able to validate her idea and realized that there was a market, she focused on building her own website.
  • Don’t limit your control – starting on platforms like Etsy can be great for validating, but Etsy is the business in control. They can shut you down at any moment. If you want to scale and grow a highly-successful business, don’t be afraid to step off those platforms and start building your own website.
  • Think about hiring employees – you can’t be great at everything. Think about what skills you lack and how much more your business could grow if you hired employees or virtual assitants to take care of the tasks you aren’t as skilled at

We cover a lot in this episode, so make sure you tune into the full-episode on your favorite podcast app!



Thank You!

I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Nine-Five Podcast. Thank you so much for listening!


What is a crazy online business story that you have?

Leave a comment below and let me know!



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"The value you provide to others directly correlates to your success. The more value you provide, the more successful you become. Focus on the value!"

- Nick Nalbach

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I am an entrepreneur and adventure enthusiast, looking to break free from the Nine-Five grind. I'll show you what has worked and is currently working for me, as well as what hasn't worked so well.

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