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Ortal Shlomo 💍 From Etsy Jewelry Designer to Highly Profitable Business Owner (#5).

Episode 5 🍍90×9.co

Ortal Shlomo is the founder and designer of The Faint Hearted jewelry line. She founded her company less than 5 years ago, and was profitable within 6 months. Ortal was gracious enough to devote a full hour to answering our listeners questions, so this interview has been broken down into three episodes for your listening convenience. Join us in discovering how Ortal brilliantly handled the turbulent path from “Etsy jewelry designer” to “highly profitable business owner”. If you’d like to know more about Ortal, subscribe to her monthly “letter from the designer” HERE via her website.


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click this image to visit The Faint Hearted jewelry line
An interview with Ortal Shlomo, the founder of The Faint Hearted Jewelry Line

Ortal Shlomo 💍 From Etsy Jewelry Designer to Highly Profitable Business Owner (#5).

Ortal Shlomo is the founder and designer of The Faint Hearted jewelry line. She founded her company less than 5 years ago, and was profitable within 6 months. Ortal was gracious enough to devote a full hour to answering our listeners questions, so this interview has been broken down into three episodes for your listening convenience. Join us in discovering how Ortal brilliantly handled the turbulent path from “Etsy jewelry designer” to “highly profitable business owner”. If you’d like to know more about Ortal, subscribe to her monthly “letter from the designer” HERE via her website.

IN THIS EPISODE, ORTAL SHARES:

  • What made her decide to launch
  • How long it took her to make a profit
  • How forums helped her MORE than mentors
  • The tactics she uses to increase customer retention
  • How the Etsy algorithm almost tanked her business

Share this episode

Listen to this podcast on your favorite platform:

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Adi 🍍

Ortal, thank you so much for joining us today. Could you share a bit about yourself with listeners?

Ortal 💍

Hi Adi, thank you for having me on the show. Hello everyone, I’m the Founder and Designer of The Faint-Hearted Jewelry. It’s an affordable jewelry line that specializes in dainty and subtle accent pieces, that can easily be layered. 

Adi 🍍

How old is your company?

Ortal 💍

Four years old.

Adi 🍍

Wow. A four year old company that’s already profitable is impressive, since many people say it takes five years to get there. How soon after launching were you profitable?

Ortal 💍

Six months.

Adi 🍍

Wow. What made you decide to launch?

Ortal 💍

I was working as a brand manager for a clothing company. I helped build their brand in the Southwest region of the U.S. I noticed there were a lot of product-market fit issues that the designer overlooked. Seeing the end was near for the business, I decided to accept an offer from a travel accessories company as their brand manager. At the time I was working for the travel accessories brand, the industry wasn’t really resonating with me. I found that I was really bored at work and that I wanted to start my own fashion brand given my history in apparel. But I also knew that apparel was really difficult to start up. It was expensive, you always have to worry about fit, and people ruining their clothing in the laundry, and I think the biggest problem was seeing novelty. You have to read minds to sell a product and if you didn’t, it was done. You couldn’t sell it again. 

When I was looking into it, I found that jewelry was easy to break into. It was fairly inexpensive to produce. And it wasn’t seasonal.  Gold, rose gold, and silver are year round. It’s not a seasonal color and there’s no seasonal styles. So I didn’t have to worry about my merchandise selling in three months. I could have a year or even two years to sell it.  

Adi 🍍

How old were you when you created your first piece of jewelry?

Ortal 💍

If I go back in history, I would say the first piece of jewelry I ever made was when I was about seventeen. I bought some charms in Israel and I put them on a red string, and I sold it to friends and family here in L.A. It was just a way to pick up extra cash, and I wasn’t thinking I wanted to be a jewelry designer. I thought, “Oh I could make this.” I made a few, sold them to friends and family, and when the charms were done, I thought that was it. I didn’t think about it again.  

Adi 🍍

Did you sell online or in person?

Ortal 💍

In person. I was wearing it and they asked, “Can I get one of those?” I sold it for five bucks.  

Adi 🍍

So your entrepreneurial mindset was there from a young age?

Ortal 💍

Yes. I realized where to get those charms in Israel. I picked them up, I bought a red string, then connected the two, and that was it.

Adi 🍍

What were a few surprising obstacles you faced your first year when you were trying to make your jewelry an actual brand?

Ortal 💍

I think the biggest obstacle was the quality of the jewelry. I underestimated how quickly jewelry can tarnish or fade when people wear it. I think that was a challenge for about a year and a half, not just the first year. It took me a really long time to figure out how to gold plate it, to not cause rashes, green fingers, or fade within two weeks.

Adi 🍍

Did you have a mentor that helped you to learn that or did you go online and research yourself? 

Ortal 💍

No. I just researched, called, and tested. I asked a lot of questions. I wasn’t scared to reach out to people and ask them. There was a forum for gold plating and I just reached out and called. I knew I didn’t have much to offer them, but I still called anyway. I was surprised to find out that people are really nice. It could be just because they are all in the Midwest or major cities. They were really nice in general and they gave me a lot of information about metals and gold plating. It’s chemistry. It’s more than piecing together jewelry; there’s a whole science to it. I had to research how to test metals when I would receive production from places, I had to send them out to get tested, to make sure I was getting what I was getting. 

To make jewelry is easy, you go buy some chain, or buy gold filled chains and charms. It’s really easy to  do. But once you start getting into casting and dealing with different kinds of metals like brass, silver, and gold, it took a lot of time to learn and understand the compositions and their reactions to everything. That was the challenge. But I am curious, I ask questions, and I research. When one customer complains about something, I don’t take it lightly and think “Oh it’s just that one person.” I take it seriously and I look into it. When one person said a piece faded within two weeks, it got my attention. I did not ignore it. I find that many companies do that.  

Adi 🍍

I think that’s why people become your brand loyalist because you care that people are happy with the product.  Even though you are an affordable jewelry line, the level of customer care you show is equivalent to a Nieman-Marcus or Bloomingdale’s. 

Ortal 💍

It’s really hard to communicate that online because I can write a lot of it in my policies and in the item description.  I can try to educate people online, but they don’t really read.  

Adi 🍍

How long does one of your pieces last? 

Ortal 💍

It really depends on a person’s skin. There’s a lot of belief that water is what causes it to tarnish, but if you have good fourteen karat gold plating, water is not going to make it tarnish quickly. It will eventually, but not quickly. A person’s skin type and body chemistry is really the determining factor. People are sensitive about their skin, but it’s not gross or a bad thing. It’s just different, and everyone reacts differently. 

Adi 🍍

So it really comes down to biochemistry? 

Ortal 💍

Yes. 

Adi 🍍

Did you break even during your first or second year?

Ortal 💍

I broke even my first year. Actually within six months, I broke even. I always kept my overhead low. I was working at my brother’s warehouse until I got the job at the clothing company once again. I couldn’t go between the two. So then, my parents were generous and gave me a bedroom in their house. I turned it into an office. Before I opened my pop-up, I went between the clothing brand office and my parents’ house.  I worked between the two and then go home. Even when I opened up my kiosk, I still kept the office at my parents’ house. We opened up in October, and by April, I got my first office. So April 2018 was the first time I ever had my own office. I operated a pretty robust operation online. I could have supported myself just on that. I had my pop-up, a retail location, but I was still operating from home. I didn’t pay additional rent. Now we have an office/studio where I can make things there too.  

Adi 🍍

For an artist or designer looking to open their first Etsy shop, what advice or insight would you like to share with them?

Ortal 💍

Try to stay out of your head and try not to be stubborn about your designs. You can create your own designs, that’s great, people will love it and think their beautiful. But if you are trying to run a business, you need to sell what people are looking for. If they are not looking for your product, it’s going to be really hard to break through.  Many designers are not looking at the market and listening to what people want, and that’s usually where they fail. Everytime I design something, I think, “Are people searching for this? Are they looking for it?” If the answer is yes, then I make it. If the answer is no, the design is complicated, or if it’s not something people are searching for in Google, I don’t make it.  

Adi 🍍

Last year you learned a very difficult lesson with the Etsy algorithm. Could you share what happened?

Ortal 💍

With Etsy, I find there’s a lot of growth after Christmas, so many people buy a lot of merchandise and gift them to people. People who receive the gifts, then purchase more themselves. But there’s always growth after Christmas. Last year, around April, I was working at the kiosk for six months, I was exhausted.  I didn’t have enough staff, and I needed a break. I found people to work at the pop-up for about a week. I didn’t care what the sales were or what the results were, I just needed someone to be physically there as required by the contract for the mall. And then online, I decided to turn off the store for a week and go on vacation. When I returned and turned my store back on, sales just crashed. I guess Etsy pushed me back on the algorithm, and I disappeared into the Etsy space. It’s been really hard to build that back up. Once Christmas came, I recovered, but it took from April to December for that to happen.

Adi 🍍

That slight change in where you ranked with the algorithm nearly killed the company.

Ortal 💍

Sales dropped by 50% and it stayed that way for awhile. It didn’t kill it completely; the sales were still there. It wasn’t what it used to be. That wave came and crashed. I was no longer on the wave. It was something hard to deal with. I learned that when I go on vacation for a few days, to change the delivery date on the platform.  Instead of shipping within three to five days, I set it to two weeks. Whoever wants to purchase can purchase, but the delivery date will be within two weeks. 

Adi 🍍

It’s crazy how faceless algorithms can completely change people’s lives. I was reading how the Facebook algorithm took two adjustments and two multi-billion dollar companies just died with that slight change in the algorithm. But to hear it happen on Etsy, which is supposed to be all about the creators, promoting you guys and showcasing your work. It’s a wake-up call.   

Ortal 💍

I can only make assumptions; I don’t work at Etsy and I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.  I know they went public. Their concerns now, I guess are the shareholders instead of the designers. And that’s fine. That’s fair. That’s business. I am not offended by it. There’s a lot of positive things that resulted from that. They allowed us to expand and outsource our production, so I don’t have to make everything by hand and I can get additional help.  That allows me to grow. Before you weren’t able to do that and now you can. We can get further. Ever since that change, I have seen many designers from Etsy grow into huge companies because they are now allowed to hire extra help to make the product. It still has that handmade factor to it, but it’s with a team rather than just you individually. With every platform comes its pros and cons. That’s why you have your website, so you can have a lot more control and be a little more lenient with discounts, and get away with a little bit more. 

Adi 🍍

When the crash happened last year, that’s why you moved over to Shopify and opened your Shopify store?

Ortal 💍

I opened up my Shopify the day I opened up my Etsy store, four years ago. 

Adi 🍍

When did you make your first sale on Shopify?

Ortal 💍

My website really picked up about November 2016. That’s when sales online picked up. I always had the website, just in case people wanted to go on there, and I would get a sale once in a while. It wasn’t something big, but it was $30 a month to operate on there and have a website. I figured it was an expense worth having. 

Adi 🍍

That’s so affordable, especially since there’s cybersecurity. 

Ortal 💍

Down the line, I was using Shopify and they added a lot of tools to help us sell. The biggest tool was the viable pins.  We were able to connect our store to Pinterest and people were able to shop from Pinterest. Since the product was already on there and they were re-pinning and sharing my images, it was easier to purchase without having to visit my website. Since then it has changed; it is not as easy. When you are on your Pinterest app, you no longer have the viable pins at the top, but people can still see the price and the website. It is very easy for them to really understand the product, more than just a picture.  

Adi 🍍

This is huge, the shoppable pins.  For Ortal’s brand, her brand’s profile on Pinterest has a following of 3,000 people, but it also gets 2.1 million monthly views. That has had a huge impact on sales.

Ortal 💍

That’s the great thing about Pinterest. It’s not a social media platform, like Instagram or Facebook. It’s not individualistic, it’s not about yourself. It’s not people taking selfies or anything like that. It’s people sharing things that they like and they enjoy. People save pins onto their boards, without having to follow you. They know they can go back and reference, even if they are not ready to spend now. They know they can go back to it later. Pinterest is an image search. I use it to look for things. I am planning my wedding right now. I go on there and search for flowers and I get beautiful results. It’s a lot more effective than Google image search and I think a lot of women use it. It’s an amazing platform. 

Adi 🍍

It’s really a place where you connect with people by collaborating with people, whereas the other platforms are all about the “Me Generation,” e.g. selfies, pictures of me, cool things I do. Pinterest is the collaborative platform. People are connecting by saying “This is beautiful, I think this is brilliant for my next idea…” so the people you get on there are a completely different personality type. 

Ortal 💍

Very different. They are looking for different things. There’s a lot of creatives on Pinterest. It’s a great platform to gain inspiration. The wedding and food industries are big on there. You can get recipes, interior design ideas, outfit ideas, everything is very creative! People pin great things on there. I love it. It’s a great platform. I drive a lot of inspiration from the imagery on there. It’s refreshing, compared to the other social media platforms, which are highly saturated and very individualistic. I find that brands get lost on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. 

Adi 🍍

You have to constantly compete to stay relevant on those platforms.

Ortal 💍

On Pinterest, it’s really hard to distinguish yourself as a brand on there, but at least people are sharing and loving your product, so you can get an immediate reaction.

Adi 🍍

Although your brand doesn’t have the issue of “getting lost” as other brands. I have seen influencers put something on a color palette and it gets lost on many different boards, but no one goes to the website. But when we look at your dashboard, the third highest buyer group coming to your site, is coming from Pinterest.

Ortal 💍

If you share a color palette, it’s not tangible. There’s no reason to click the link and go to a website. If you have a product, people may think “I really like this ring. I wonder what else they have.” That’s the difference when it is tangible. People become more curious, and they click on the website and look. When the viable pins connect the pin to my website, they can click on the picture and see that a ring is only $29, and they might think, “That’s really affordable,” and now they are curious. They want to see more.

Adi 🍍

Because you have a lot of creatives on Pinterest, they tend to read the fine print to see what materials are used in your products. They are shocked to realize that the materials are a good value and they make the buy. 

Ortal 💍

Going back to the tangible aspect, you can see [from my dashboard] my campaign images do not spread on Pinterest as quickly as my product images

Adi 🍍

That’s interesting. What made you decide on Shopify over all other platform options?

Ortal 💍

For E-Commerce, Shopify is the best one. If you’re looking at a website for branding or service-based, for example, if you’re a photographer, or not selling a physical product, you would use something like Squarespace. For E-Commerce, Shopify is hands-down the best platform. Everything they offered has helped me grow so much. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them connecting me to Pinterest, Instagram, or social media. 

Adi 🍍

You mentioned a few times that you have a pop-up. In the age of E-Commerce, what made you decide to make this bold move and obtain a physical space?

Ortal 💍

People still like to go to stores and try things on, and touch and feel it. A big concern for people is uncertainty of what they are getting online and if it’s really like it is in the picture. I figured I could try it out. It wasn’t on my radar until I read an article about how Westfield Century City was investing about a billion dollars in renovations to make an upscale mall in the L.A. area. 

When I was 18, I worked at a Lucky brand. I worked in two different locations, one of which was Century City. I remember that Century City had a lower amount of traffic, but the highest amount of sales. It was a local mall, not really a tourist destination, but it was surrounded by a really wealthy community. All the surrounding buildings were really upscale hotels or offices belonging to doctors, lawyers, movie industry studios, like FOX and CAA. They are a higher end demographic who shop there. They come out of their offices and walk over for lunch, pick up a few things, and leave. Or they come after work. They know what they want, get it, and go. 

When I heard they were renovating into a beautiful mall, I reached out to them to see if they were doing anything special for the upcoming holidays and if there were any short-term options available. And they did. Given my knowledge of the mall, the demographics, and the buying behavior there, I figured it would be a great start, especially for Christmas. We opened up in October 2017.

Adi 🍍

It was a temporary pop-up shop?

Ortal 💍

It was temporary. It was a lease for 6 months, and so I was going to be there through March, for Christmas and Valentine’s Day. It was a short-term lease with the option to extend. It was the hardest thing I had ever done and still do. In summary, the biggest challenges were finding employees, dealing with management, and learning how to operate in a mall environment.  

Adi 🍍

Moving back to the digital world, recently you moved from Mailchimp to SharpSpring to run your automated email marketing and data tracking. What are your thoughts on the platform?

Ortal 💍

SharpSpring has been great. They are an all-in-one solution for small business, whose not looking to break the bank on data tracking and reporting set up that can easily cost upwards of $6,000 a year. It’s great that the platform can send an email to anyone that spends more than 3 minutes on a product page or if they don’t make purchases within 72 hours. It’s a great way to capture an audience and re-engage them with the product.

Adi 🍍

And to boost your conversions.

Ortal 💍

Yes. It really does help to boost conversions. 

Adi 🍍

This is something I found really interesting with your SharpSpring account. The way that social media algorithms work, where there is a positive control loop. People are getting an email, and not necessarily buying through the email, but they are going to your social media or directly to your website and making purchases. That helps to boost your rankings on search engines and increase your organic reach on social media. I don’t think enough people are talking about in blogs and articles that email marketing doesn’t necessarily have a high conversion rate through the emails, but it usually ends up setting off a positive change reaction or a metaphorical avalanche. 

Ortal 💍

I think so. It reminds customers that you are there. 

Adi 🍍

What are some other platforms or tools that you use to manage or grow your business?

Ortal 💍

I don’t really use other platforms. Social media is definitely my weakest link. I am awful at Instagram and I personally don’t like everything it stands for. It can be used for a lot of positive, but for the most part, it has created a lot of negative energy in the world. Many people are comparing themselves to one another, and it creates a lot of envy and jealousy in the world. I don’t think it’s great. 

I can’t stand the “Influencer” culture that exists right now. It’s great to have someone that you look up to, in terms of designs and styling. But there’s a new culture that’s been created where people feel like it is okay to email me and ask for free product in exchange for pictures. It could be a fair trade-off if people actually did what they offered. If they say “I’m going to take a few pictures and post it on my story, and it’s going to look great.” That would be a great trade-off, if they did their part. But they don’t. So I have to follow up with them for an entire month, and the picture I eventually get is the necklace with their sweats on. You can tell they were just sitting at home and took a selfie. 

I work hard for this stuff. I make the product. I put work into it. The loss for sending out the product isn’t what affects me, in as much as the fact that people don’t have any integrity. I recently had an influencer that had 2 million followers. She reached out to me to ask for the product. She had the audacity to ask for five necklaces. I gave her only three. When she received the package, she complained she received only three. It took her a month to post it to her story. She’s the same girl that posted in her sweats at home. She sat on her couch and took a picture in her sweats. The product didn’t even look great. That is an example of a person taking advantage of her status and well-being. Two million followers does not necessarily translate into sales. 

If you are going to post something, please make it look good, so I can get that value out of it. I can have a picture that looks great that I can share and that helps my brand perception. I really can’t stand the culture that has been created. I read recently about a hotel owner in Ireland that blasted a girl for doing that. To me, he was my hero! 

I’ve had influencers come to the pop-up, try something on, and openly ask “Would you give it to me for free if I post it?” It’s so unprofessional and ridiculous. Legitimate influencers would not be asking for something for free. If they are effective, they charge.

Adi 🍍

We are coming to the point where it’s an oversaturated game. In 2016, I worked with a fashion start up in Spain. They found that for every influencer they sent a free sweatshirt to, they would get three sales. But at that point, influencers necessarily weren’t getting a lot of free stuff. You didn’t get free stuff if you have 50,000 followers. You got free stuff if you were Adam Sandler, or another huge name in Hollywood. 

Ortal 💍

I have girls with 1,000 followers ask me “Hey would you like to ‘collab’ with me?” No, I don’t. If you would like to pay for my product though that I worked hard to make. This same product causes me to not have a nice manicure. 

Adi 🍍

So final question before you go back to running your future empire: if you could tell an app developer to create the perfect new tool for your affordable fashion start-up, what would it be? 

Ortal 💍

A referral-based platform where people could post what they believe is a great product. They test it out and they can comment their honest opinions. A platform where paid product reviews are not accepted. I’m sure people will leak through that. For example, on Instagram we have all these influencers posting how much they love a product, but they were paid to say that. You don’t know if what you are getting is worth it. 

Adi 🍍

Even on Amazon, people are paid to write those reviews. They have so many fake accounts, that are writing these reviews and answering questions. So you don’t even know what you can trust there. It’s kind of a laboratory but for consumer goods.

Ortal 💍

That’s really the nice thing about Etsy’s review system. You actually have to make a purchase in order to review. You can’t review just because. On Amazon, you can still review, even if you didn’t purchase. On my Etsy platform, all of those reviews are people who really bought and used my product. Those are genuine reviews. I have no way to fake it. Every review was hard earned. The few negative reviews I had, I took what they said and improved my product. I used it as a learning tool.  

Adi 🍍

That is huge. Not many people do that today. Ortal, thank you for your time. Do you have any final notes before we close today’s interview?

Ortal 💍

For any entrepreneurs, hang in there. Sometimes you have to push through the tough times. Keep your overhead low! It’s the biggest thing. When starting your business, keep your overhead as low as possible, and work from home if you can.   

Adi 🍍

For those of you looking to touch base with Ortal, connect with her on social media, or check out her fashion brand, I will have a link to her store, her Etsy shop, and a social media profile in the show notes. Thank you all for listening and I will see you on social media. 




About your host Adi Pineapple 🍍

Adi Soozin recently transitioned from working as the Fast Growth Executive at The Million Dollar Pineapple to the Head of Growth & Operations at 90×9. Over the past decade she has worked as an on-call consultant and marketing freelancer for more than 300 companies throughout 48 countries, across 6 continents. The fastest she has grown a company is from $0 to more than $100,000,000 in sales in less than 5 years.

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