John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the years. He knows their ups, and their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Tucker Richardson, Head of Product & Operations, GEMSHO.
01 Will you please tell us your GEMSHO elevator pitch?
I’ve always gotten a chuckle out of this question because, in my opinion, every business should have the same answer. That is, we aim to serve our customers by providing valuable, high-quality products at the best possible price. We do this with the greatest degree of focus we can manage, and we execute within the capabilities of our team.
That said, our mission for the next three years is to become the preferred e-commerce supplier in the “golf-themed barware gifts for men” hyper-niche. That mission doesn’t represent all of the things we’ve done in the past but it does represent our plans for the future. So that’s probably the closest thing to an elevator pitch we will ever have. I know this sounds like a sidestep, and it probably is, but no matter what your business’s “thing” is, it is always beholden to a changing landscape of customer wants, their definition of value, and your team’s ability to execute in response. If/when that landscape changes, your business must manage an identity crisis before it can respond, then it could spell your demise. So, we don’t subscribe to that thought process. We’re customer-focused, not identity-focused.
02 I noticed that in the About section of GEMSHO’s LinkedIn page, you list a 4-step process to describe “What We Do.” Can you tell me more about this process that you list on it?
I could probably write an entire novel on this subject but, in general, what’s written here is our attempt at defining all the things that have made GEMSHO successful in the past in relationship to each other such that they can be simply understood and leveraged for the future. The result is a process aimed at identifying opportunities with limited investment, massive upside, low competition, organic traffic, and a bias toward action. This allows us to limit our risk and get to market quickly so our customers can decide what should live, what shouldn’t, and what needs to be changed. Since this was written on the LinkedIn page, I would probably add something to this about focusing to the greatest degree we can manage. That’s a lesson from the last year that has really hit home for me. The less we focus, the less effective we are at executing for our customers.
03 What has been your favorite product to date OR sales that have surprised you?
Our golf ball whiskey glass set is a product that was very surprising for me. It was our first sustained success as a business and, to be honest, it’s a product I would never buy. We put our own tastes aside and designed that product because we could see the potential for success in the data we had gathered, and it worked! So, it was surprising to me in that this was the first product I’ve ever developed that I didn’t personally care for, yet it is by far the most successful. This is counterintuitive to how most people analyze opportunities They tend to make decisions solely on their impression and experiences. This product taught me to focus on the array of thought processes the product is likely to encounter and to mostly ignore my own bias.
04 In your business, there must be a million moving parts to produce each project, including collaborating with other production and service companies, agents, actors, and whatnot. How have you gone about keeping yourself organized and creating partnerships to get all of this done effectively?
From a process perspective, we identify our suppliers through Alibaba.com and we also process our international transactions through them. Alibaba is an incredible tool because not only do they connect you with thousands of suppliers, but they will also escrow your funds until you’ve received and inspected your goods. This reduces risk dramatically in comparison to wiring funds overseas and hoping for the best. Jungle Scout is another tool we use that allows us to see the sales history of most products on Amazon, which is where we do most of our business. This allows us to identify products that sell very well with limited competition. If an opportunity also has poor reviews, that’s the holy grail for us because that means people know the product has poor quality but they’re buying it anyway. Our competitors likely utilize many of the same tools and thought processes that I just described. One thing that sets us apart from our competitors, however, is our in-house industrial and graphic design capabilities. I have a rich background in engineering and have come to be quite dangerous in graphic design, so I try to leverage every bit of that experience to produce unique products that our competitors can’t.
What is GEMSHO?
GEMSHO is a company that identifies, designs, and sources simple products with upside and low entry investment.
05 Once you have the products for you to further customize and package, have you found effective methods for the shipping process?
Most people don’t realize this, but you can actually send all of your inventory to Amazon and then they will pick, pack, and fulfill orders from any platform you choose. For example, you can use Amazon to fulfill your Etsy orders and they will do it at a fraction of the cost of other channels. This is called Amazon multi-channel fulfillment, or MCF, and, given they have such massive volume, their prices are unbeatable.
To give you some perspective, it would cost us $9-11 to ship a set of golf ball whiskey glasses from Fargo-Moorhead to the west coast in 2-5 days. And that’s just the price of the label. That doesn’t include any of the labor required to pick, pack, apply the label, verify it’s correct, and deliver the order to the carrier. If you use Amazon MCF, they will do all of these things and deliver your product to the end customer for less than $8. They also rarely make mistakes, and they have warehouses all over the country. So once your inventory is in their system, they will spread it out across the country so you can offer 1–2 day shipping more consistently. It’s an incredible value.
06 From knowing you for the past 5+ years, I’m aware that this started as a side hustle while you worked your job at a local tech manufacturer, and that you have been learning, researching, and tinkering for years about selling products via e-commerce. How did you go about deciding to go full-time with this?
GEMSHO started several years ago as an attempt to stay productive outside of work during the winter months. It was just a passion project when it all got started and when we saw some success, I was more than happy to spend my nights and weekends working on it. Fast forward to the end of 2022 and now I’m now married with two kids, and a third is on the way, and GEMSHO has grown into something that requires more than just nights and weekends if continued growth is to be expected. So, in other words, I have less free time than I’ve ever had, and GEMSHO is demanding more. So, something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be family. Either GEMSHO had to fall to the wayside, or I had to make it my full-time job. I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t take a shot at turning GEMSHO into something great, so that’s what I decided to do.
07 Under your GEMSHO umbrella, I’m also familiar with your Mint Hockey shooting pad products. What can you tell the readers about that product line?
Mint Hockey was an offshoot idea from an earlier time when we were quite a bit less focused. Both me and my partner played hockey growing up and we wanted to do something in a space that we knew well. Since we’re now planning to put our focus on the “golf-themed barware gifts for men” hyper niche, we may have to put Mint’s growth plans on the back burner, but I’m still very excited about the Mint Hockey brand and products.
Right now, through Mint, we offer white and black hockey shooting pads made in Minnesota from recycled plastic. We also have a mint green colored pad that, unfortunately, isn’t made from recycled plastic. We hand-treat each pad with a layer of silicone, and we personally plant one tree for every pad we sell. Each of our boards is extra thick so they perform well in the grass, and they have a pebbled surface finish to better simulate the feel of the ice. All of that said, we’ve taken a single sheet of plastic and wrapped so much meaning into it that kids and parents all over the country choose us over substantial legacy suppliers. It’s a fun product line.
08 What kind of advice do you have for someone looking to turn a side hustle or a nights and weekends thing into something more substantial?
My best advice would be to audit your time and figure out what you need to give up to make it happen. If you go through the process of writing down your activities in any given week, hour by hour, I think you’d be surprised by how much time you have outside of work. The other thing that most people don’t recognize is the power of incremental progress. If you spend just 5 hours a week, that turns into 260 hours of work over the course of a year. That’s 6.5 weeks of work at 40 hours per week. Bump that to 10 hours per week and stretch it out over 3 years and that’s equal to nearly 10 months of work toward your project. Imagine what you could do with 10 months of dedication! You have no idea, really.
You must be willing to do it one hour at a time, though, and you must be willing to delay the gratification. Once you understand how much time you have and the impact of a few hours a week it really becomes a question of what you really want. Do you want to work on your project for an hour or do you want to watch Netflix? Do you want to make a few hours worth of progress, or do you want to go golfing? How important is TikTok to you? What if you deleted it? How important is alcohol to you? What if you didn’t drink for a few months? What do you really want and what can you live without? These are the thought processes that worked for me. Motivation is a function of meaning and meaning is all about sacrificing things now for a chance at something better in the future.
09 On that advice track, if you could go back in time to Tucker from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
If anything, I think I would maybe offer myself some encouragement. Something like, “You’re on the right track, keep making healthy sacrifices, and the results will follow.” It would be tempting to want to warn myself of some impending mistakes but I’m not sure that would be helpful. Some lessons need to be learned firsthand if they’re to be respected. Going back maybe 15-20 years, I think I would have offered myself the advice I shared in the last question.
10 Lastly, what can we do as a community to help you and GEMSHO succeed?
I would love to compare notes with anyone in our community that is active in the e-commerce space and seeing some success. I’d also be happy to connect with anybody that is active in the e-commerce space and isn’t seeing success. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to connect. We love to help and we’re always thrilled to learn!
We’re also open to hearing from retailers, distributors, and anyone else that’s interested in selling, distributing, or buying personalized/custom barware for events or as a gift!
John Machacek has been helping local startups with the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation since prior to his position with the GFMEDC. Before joining the team, Machacek was the VP of Finance & Operations at United Way of Cass-Clay and a business banker at U.S. Bank.