Merch by Amazon Success: Interview with Yong Chong
Today we are bringing back the interview series with none other than the Yong Chong! I have had the pleasure of both meeting Yong on multiple occasions both in Seattle and at a conference in Denver Colorado where I gave a speech on how to essentially “franchise” a Merch by Amazon business.
The names Yong and Glen might sound familiar to you if you have been around in the Merch space for any amount of time as these are the guys who started the ever popular (and first!), Merch by Amazon podcast! You can check out their podcast here: http://merchminds.libsyn.com/ where they discuss their Merch business and interview authority figures in the space (many of which you have seen in our interview series). Putting in plainly, these guys are crushing it. Yong especially is doing incredibly well with the amount of live designs he has. It might have something to do with actually being a graphic artist or maybe because during the day he hangs around smart people at Stanford. Who knows!
Today I got to sit down with Yong and pick his brain on what makes him tick, how he has been able to scale his business, and what his plans for the future are. I will let him take it from here!
Tell us a little about who you are and a general ballpark of how much per month you are doing with Print on Demand?
My name is Yong and been doing graphic design since 1989 when desktop computers and Adobe Illustrator was an infant. That doesn’t mean that I’m an expert designer. It just means that I’m well-experienced. At the time of this interview, I’m at the 1000 tier with 510 shirts live. I been consistently averaging over $3000 in royalties since March 2017.
How long have you been a member of the Merch by Amazon Platform?
I been on Merch by Amazon since February 2016. It took me a couple of months to have my account approved. Unfortunately, my account was approved when they had a few restrictions such as not being able to upload and Amazon wasn’t tiering people up. Because of the restrictions, it took me nine months to make $1000 in royalties.
How did you first find out about the platform and what were your initial thoughts?
Glen Zubia first told me about it in December 2015. However, I was so busy with Q4 doing FBA that I didn’t even think about it until Glen started to tell me his numbers. Once I applied it took a few months to get approved.
What was your “AHA!” moment when you realized the potential from selling Merch online?
When I first started the lowest tier was 25. I had the “aha” moment when one of my shirts starting selling immediately. Not only did it start selling immediately but I sold a lot! Unfortunately, that was when Merch was still somewhat of the wild west, and it was a shirt that won’t be allowed on the platform today.
Did you have to wait for approval? Any tips for those submitting applications today?
It took me about 2-3 months to get approved. I honestly don’t know how Amazon go about approving accounts. I heard everything from having your own website to creating a Seller Central account, which can expedite your approval process. But the honest truth is no one knows except Amazon. I would just say start selling on other platforms especially Etsy + Printful integration immediately.
What tier are you at and how many designs do you currently have live?
The ongoing joke with me and I share this on the Merch Minds podcast is that I can’t seem to get out of the 1000 tier. I’m a one-man operation with a full-time job and various other side hustles. So time if a huge factor because I can only upload so many designs per day. However, I’m taking Debbie Harvey’s advice and reuploading my designs on premium shirts.
Do you outsource your design work or do you do it yourself?
I do most of the design work myself. However, believe it or not, I recently hired a girl who’s going through the same program that I went through at San Jose State University. I told her that I would pay her $10 for simple text-based designs. Surprisingly, she’s gone above and beyond my expectations and delivered some phenomenal designs. So I been paying her extra and bonuses because I know how much time and effort goes into doing good original designs.
Where are you outsourcing and at what price? Any tips on the process?
Haha! You just had to ask me that question. I’m not a Fiverr guy. I firmly believe that sites like Fiverr destroyed the marketplace for talented designers. The problem with sites like Fiverr is that graphic design is the most offered service because it’s the easiest profession that people can lie about. Everyone and their mother’s are graphic designers on sites like Fiverr and Upwork. I can tell simply by looking at their designs that they have no design background whatsoever. And paying clients who don’t have the eye to know what to look for are fooled into thinking they are paying for quality designs.
Do you do any outside marketing at all or are you strictly focused on the organic traffic from on page optimization?
Most of my sales are organic. I’ve done a little AMS with mediocre results. I do want to revisit running some more campaigns on AMS. Hopefully, I can get better results.
Have you done any Amazon PPC (Pay per click)?
Have you done any Facebook advertising?
I’ve done Facebook ads with no results. I swear, in order to understand Facebook ads you need a PhD. It’s very complex in my opinion, and all the tutorials I’ve watched are all different.
Are you using free or paid traffic?
Just AMS and Facebook.
Do you have any suggestions on how to get started and learning an advertising method?
I would say experiment and be patient. Also, I would find the one person that can truly teach you Facebook ads and take advantage. I personally haven’t found that person yet but when I do you better believe I will take advantage.
When it comes to your experience what is the most important factor in getting your shirt ranked in Amazon?
I’ve said this over a thousand times. You need good design. Niches matter obviously but it’s the design that will make or break your business. Think about it. It just makes common sense. People are outsourcing designs every day from people who are supposedly graphic designers. If designs weren’t important, there would be no need to outsource designs, and everyone can do it themselves.
Do you Use Any Tools For Your Research Process? If so, what aspects do you like best?
LOL! I openly admit I use Merch Informer. However, I’m pretty well-known in the community to have done majority of my research on Google.
When it comes to your keywords, how are you approaching them?
I am not a keyword expert. I just try and find words associated with the topic of my shirt. For instance, if I make a design about football I try and find words related to it such as touchdown, first down, quarterback, linebacker, and wide receiver. I then try and write good sentences using the keywords that I come up with.
What about your pricing? Do you experiment with your prices or are you listing all your designs at the industry standard of $19.99?
I price my shirts between $17.99-$19.99. The design that I spent the least amount of time I price at $17.99 and the one that is more elaborate I price at $19.99. The premium shirts I price the same way between $21.99-$23.99.
Have you expanded into other platforms or are you taking advantage of any of the integrations to list on Amazon (Shopify/Printful/Printaura/Teespring)?
I wouldn’t say I’m crushing it, but I will admit I am putting up decent numbers considering how many live shirts I have. There are other people out there who are doing much better than me such as yourself and Ken Riel. I want to be like you guys when I grow up. I am doing the Etsy + Printful integration, and I like it. In fact, just two months into it and I’m making a few hundred dollars extra per month. I have some hacks that I’m working on to grow my Etsy business, but I’m not ready to share those yet. Haha!
How do you ensure your designs remain safe from any possible infringement?
I always do thorough research for the trademark of the design and slogan. However, there is always the coincidence aspect of design. One thing I learned is that in the world of design EVERYTHING has been done already. Just because you have a design that is similar to someone else’s doesn’t mean you deliberately stole it. It’s impossible to research everything that we do in design. As long as you’re honest and ethical about how you do your designs, you should be safe. If some claims you stole their design, but you never knew about it before they approached you then you should be fine. There are legal matters that we can discuss but just know that as long you are honest you should be able to go to bed at night with no issues.
If there is one thing to avoid when learning the MBA business, what would you say that is?
Merch is NOT our business. At the end of the day, Amazon controls what we can and can’t do. We should all definitely treat it like a business and follow the TOS. However, Amazon has the right to pull the plug on our accounts with no notice. Last year, I had a huge scare when Amazon canceled my FBA account because I didn’t have the correct home address on file. The scary part was that it was all across the board. Amazon canceled my FBA, Kindle, ACX and Merch account.
What is the end goal for your MBA business?
My end goal is to make $10k a month in royalties. If I can do that and with all my other side hustles I would consider leaving my day job at Stanford University. Stanford pays me well, but I really want to attempt being my own boss before my time is up.
Any plans for all the money you have made from Merch?
Travel. I want to start traveling again. One of my biggest passion is to travel, and I’ve been to places most people only dream about. However, because of health issues, I haven’t traveled abroad in several years. Now that I’m healthy again, for the most part, I want to travel internationally again.
If there is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is starting to use Merch by Amazon for the first time and wants to get ahead, what would it be?
Be patient. This is a marathon and not a sprint. I see too many people posting their frustrations in facebook groups because they are at the lower tiers and not making any sales. Figure out why. Be honest with yourself. Regardless of who did the design ask yourself, “Would I buy this design?” Get together with few other people doing Merch and get honest feedback and criticism. I wouldn’t ask close friends or family members because they will only tell you what you want to hear. Find out what’s working and expand on it.