Prioritizing Happiness Over Growth + Other Marketing Talk

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Today is part two of my interview with Adam Saraceno, the Chief Marketing Officer of Peak Design. We’re picking up the conversation we started last week on leveraging Kickstarter, but we shift gears to talk about how Adam’s company has cultivated and maintained such an awesome culture (while still managing to create super high-quality products), which marketing tactics are giving them the best ROI, and more.

You’ll learn:

  • The most important thing you can do as a small business to create the culture you want.
  • What marketing spend is giving Peak Design the best ROI.
  • Why they decided to build a brick and mortar store in San Francisco even though they’re doing so well online.
  • What you should know about contests.

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(With your host Andrew Youderian of and Adam Saraceno of

Andrew: Welcome to “The eCommerceFuel Podcast,” the show dedicated to helping high six and seven-figure entrepreneurs build amazing online companies and incredible lives. I’m your host and fellow eCommerce entrepreneur, Andrew Youderian.

Hey guys, Andrew here. Welcome to the eCommercefuel podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. Today we’re picking up the discussion that I started last week with Adam Stern Saraceno from Peak Design. Peak Design is a company that creates really innovative products for photographers, and also backpacks, messenger bags, who are based out of San Francisco.

And they are experts, world-class experts, have raised over $14 million on Kickstarter to really be able to propel their business.

Picking Up From Last Week!

Last week, we talked about, really focused on Kickstarter, why they focus on the platform, what they do that allows them to be so dangerously good at it in terms of raising funds. Today, we’re gonna shift the conversation a little bit to talk a little bit more about a couple of things.

Culture, one, we start talking about one of their core values there, which is balancing happiness and growth, and why they choose to prioritize happiness over growth, especially interesting from Adam, given he’s the Chief Marketing Officer there.

And then we also talk about just a handful of other marketing-related items, what’s working well for them on a return-on-ad spend basis today, what Adam thinks is kind of gonna be a potential emerging audience, or where he thinks he’s gonna be spending a lot of his marketing attention and budget in the future.

We talk about the brick-and-mortar store they opened in San Francisco, and why in the world you would start a brick-and-mortar store in some of the most expensive real estate in the entire country if you’re doing well on online. We talk about contests, things like that. So, I hope you enjoy the discussion, part two, that I have today with Adam.

Before we do jump in, I wanna thank our two sponsors who make the show possible. First off, big thank you to our friends at Klaviyo who make email automation easy and powerful. You’ve likely heard of Klaviyo, especially if you’ve listened to the show for, you know, any amount of time.

One very cool thing that they’ve just rolled out recently is their visual flow builder. So, a lot of times, if you’re building email flows, it can get pretty tricky because, especially if you have a logic, you know, send people down different paths based on their decisions, or when they open or don’t open.

It can get pretty confusing to visualize it, which is why Klaviyo built out a drag and drop visualizer to make it just easy to build those out. You don’t get confused with complex flows.

They have analytics and reporting built right in to the editor so you can see at a glance what needs tweaking, what’s working, what potentially could be improved. Very cool. So, this is one of the many great features for Klaviyo. So, you can check them out and get started, and give that visual flow builder a test run at

And then secondly, I wanna thank the team over at Liquid Web who offers world-class web hosting for your WooCommerce store. I love these guys. I got to know these guys recently at a conference. I’ve since moved all of my hosting to them. A couple of fun facts from Liquid Web: they’ve been doing this for 20 years. They use all of their own data centers and all of their own hardware and tech. They don’t outsource this or the AWS.

If something is wrong, they can walk down the hall and swap out a hard drive, which is pretty cool.

And they guarantee it, any hardware issues they’ll take care of in 30 minutes or less, any help desk issues they’ll take care of in 30 minutes or less. I’ve called them on the phone a couple of times to test their service, and I’ve always been able to get a live tech, stateside tech, who knows WooCommerce and WordPress really well, on the phone in 35 seconds or less.

These guys are amazing. So, if you wanna host your website, especially if you wanna host your WooCommerce store, check them out at

What To Outsource + What To Keep In-House

Andrew: All right, that being said, let’s go ahead and get into today’s discussion with Adam. So, given the fact remaining small is really important, you gotta be super-efficient in marketing, there’s a whole spectrum of things that are a really good idea to outsource, and then on the other end, speaking from experience especially on the SEO front and other areas, you could really have that backfire if you’re not insanely careful.

What things, as the CMO or marketing guy for Peak Design, what things do you really try to outsource that you think you can get good leverage there, relative to the risk, or relative the potential risk of maybe, you know, having your company not marketed, or positioned, or branded the way you want to? And what things will you absolutely not outsource?

Adam: It’s always kind of a calculation of do we think we can pay somebody to do this way more effectively than we can if we, you know, try to learn it or sort of hiring somebody to do it in-house? And the things that we outsource right now that we’re super happy with, is PR. We outsource a lot of the our kind of digital marketing, at least in terms of, you know, like where those ads are being placed, and how the spend is being optimized, and how the campaigns are being structured.

We use silos for retargeting, we use rejoinder for email drip campaigns. We use FuelX for video prospecting. We use ad hoc for managing our ad words, you know.

You know, all of those people specialize in a very kind of specific platform that has a lot of technical know-how behind it, and it’s kind of like, do we wanna, for every new ad platform or every tweak to algorithm that happens, do we really wanna spend the time to learn that, or should we just pay somebody who’s really good at it and will continue to be really good at it?

Leveraging What You’re Best At

Andrew: So, would you say, and I hate to put you in this position as the CMO of the company, but would you say for Peak Design you guys’ core competency it is absolutely, without a doubt, just creating world-class photography products, and that you just leverage contractors, other companies, to the best extent possible to build and market them?

Adam: I would say that, I mean, most certainly, our core competence is designing great products. We are a design company, it’s in our name, that is our products, you know, our solutions to needs, is what defines us, and sort of drives our company. From the marketing standpoint, I think our core competency is brand building, story creation, voice, you know, and sort of connecting with people from, basically, the qualitative side of our marketing.

The look and feel, and sort of our overarching brand.

I don’t think we would ever outsource, you know, our core creative roles. I don’t think we would ever outsource our, you know, we outsource some of our customer service, but we do so sort of very judiciously, and we work very closely with those teams. So, when it comes to customer touch points, that’s our competency as marketers.

The Best Return on Marketing Spend

Andrew: What’s working really well for you right now on a ROI, or a return-on-ad spend basis? If you think through, and maybe excluding Kickstarter, but if you think about all your other channels kind of, because of course, you use Kickstarter but in between, you know, you generate a whole bunch of revenue through your website and other means.

So, what’s working really well for, you know, it could be ad words, it could be, you know, Amazon, it could be something I haven’t thought of. What’s the best return-on-marketing spend you guys are seeing right now?

Adam: Right now, we’re seeing great returns on video prospecting. Prospecting has always been like a low, you know, it’s always just like your lowest ROI part of the funnel. Lately, we’ve been using a shop called FuelX to, basically, take our existing video collateral. We make all of our videos in-house, we actually have an in-house video guy, Victor, he’s awesome.

We’ll basically take what we created for products, cut it down into super digestible bits, and then FuelX helps us kind of place those ads as prospecting ads.

It’s been like orders of magnitude high up ROI than any other prospecting that we’ve done. To me, it kind of makes sense. Videos are getting more and more easy to consume wherever and whenever you are. Internet speeds are getting faster. Phones are getting faster. You know, you see video on all social networks now.

From our side, we’ve always felt that our videos are sort of our best, richest, storytelling collateral, so I think if you combine those two things, it makes sense that video prospecting is strong look for us right now.

Andrew: Interesting. And so, FuelX, are they mostly putting those out as videos on, I’m guessing, largely on Facebook? Is that kind of probably the primary place where they’re delivering them and trying to connect with people?

Adam: I believe so, yeah.

Where To Focus Your Future Spend

Andrew: Is there any channels that…may be phrase differently, no, you wouldn’t have to spend 50% of your marketing budget, but anything you see that it’s kind of maybe not working now, but you think is appealing, potentially has legs, or potentially has some momentum that could be interesting in three years that isn’t getting a lot of exposure right now?

Adam: I think that the, you know, as I look in the future, mobile is just…I can’t…I always feel like maybe I’m overthinking something, some sort of important shift that’s happening towards mobile. Certainly, like the percentage of our sales, the percentage of sessions, all of those things have been spewing mobile consistently ever since we started.

And so, you know, perhaps there are, you know, I know that there are sort of early platforms that kind of allow you to build a sort of hybrid mobile website/app experience, and I just imagine that moving forward, those technologies are gonna change and improve. Right now, we just have a responsive website which, you know, probably was six years ago was like the brand new thing in town.

So, I’m kind of assuming that our next biggest marketing expenditure is going to be sort of rebuilding our website just to kind of a) To stay up-to-date, but b) To really solve for mobile experience and conversion a lot better. And, you know, perhaps that means we’ll just be thinking of our website primarily from a mobile standpoint moving forward, as opposed to sort of this thing that exists on all platforms.

Choosing To Open a Physical Store

Andrew: And you guys recently opened, or are planning, I believe, on opening a brick and mortar store in San Francisco. I’d love to hear kinda the rationale behind why. It seems that you guys are kind of focused on staying tight-knit. It seems incredibly expensive for a brand that’s already well-known online, in terms relative to the increased sales you would get.

What’s driving the idea to go brick and mortar for your company, or at least having a brick and mortar presence?

Adam: Yes, so, well, we opened the Peak Design collections store in San Francisco in December, and it’s been up and running now for a few months. And it’s a freaking blast. We have events there on a weekly basis. We get a ton of foot traffic. There’s a bunch of other small companies and staff right in the location, so it’s like a real fun part of town.

So, we did it. Yes, it was expensive. Definitely, opening a brick-and-mortar store is, in many ways, a luxury that we’ve been afforded by, you know, running a profitable business and kind of growing to the point where we are over the last six or seven years, but we did it for a lot of reasons. We did it because we wanted to be closer to our local community.

We wanted a place where we could sort of have face-to-face interaction with like the local creative and environmental, and outdoor community in San Francisco.

We did it to learn. You know, there’s a ton…we have a huge wholesale network. Our products are in, you know, REI, and Best Buy, and tons of retail stores all around the world. But there’s a ton you can learn from just having your own retail store, and watching people come in and interact with products, and knowing the questions that they’re asking, and kind of seeing those “Aha,” moments on their faces when they experience a certain feature or a product.

So, yeah, it’s kind of a combination of wanting to deepen our understanding of our customers, and also does get closer…

Andrew: Very cool. And if anyone’s in the Bay Area or visiting, where, maybe not the exact address, but rough area where it is in case they wanna swing in and check it out?

Adam: 529 Hayes Street, Hayes Valley.

Using Contests

Andrew: Nice. Okay, cool, I’ll swing in next time I’m in the Bay Area. I’d love to see it. Last thing I wanna ask you about, at least in terms of the topic is contests. Are they a meaningful part of how you market, either for the Kickstarters or just kind of traditionally? Are they really effective for you guys?

Adam: At one point, I think they were. They’re, certainly, a meaningful way of how we build our email list. That’s really the main thing that our contests do these days, is build, you know, it’s basically, kind of a contract where we say, “Hey, we’ll give you the chance to win stuff, and you just sign up for our email.” And, you know, people are pretty willing to do that. So, that’s really what they do for us.

We used to manage contests ourselves, where we get a bunch of brands together and then, you know, set up a big giveaway and go to the landing page, and stuff, and now so many of the brands that we collaborated with do them their selves that it’s, I have so many incoming requests from other companies that’s like, “Hey, does Peak Design wanna be part of this contest?” that I almost don’t have to do them myself anymore. We just kind of say, “Yes, sure, we’ll do it.”

I think one thing about that is that, like, it’s, you know, if you’re going to get emails from a contest and then build your email list, and then just kind of email them sales junk, I think it’s kind of a smartty tactic. I think you can sort of do it in a more noble manner if you really sort of a) Give people a super easy way to opt out, and b) Just give them interesting content, you know, don’t just try and sell them stuff. Try to teach them something. Try and entertain them. Give them something that they’re like, happy to remain subscribed to.

Facilitating Giveaways

Andrew: So, when you mention do you, a lot of times you give away stuff to get people in the email list, is that something you use that on your homepage? Do you have software that you use to facilitate that, maybe on social, or is that just something where you were talking about, where people approach you, you give away a product to them as part of the giveaway, and you get the email addresses, they also get shared on your guys’ email list?

Adam: I mean, the latter is sort of what we do more regularly on. Where we do kind of post our own things, I’ve used ViralSweep, where I just kind of create a widget in our page on our website, and then promote that page via social media. We’ve done them directly on Instagram before and just asked people hashtag things and then we’ll just kind of, you know…

Maybe it’ll be an adjudicated photo competition and we’ll just pull up the photos there. So, yeah, there’s a few ways of doing it. But, yeah, like you said, largely, nowadays we’re just hopping on third party parties.

The Lightning Round!

Andrew: Adam, before I let you go, I wanna do a quick lightning round with you that has very little to do with what we’ve been talking about so far, and mostly just for fun. So, yeah, if you’re free, just hit me with fast rapid fire answers, I’ll start tossing this into you.

Adam: Sweet.

Andrew: If you had to identify the number one thing you’re trying to optimize your life for right now, what would it be?

Adam: Yard work.

Andrew: Of course. I can’t believe I haven’t heard that one yet.

Adam: I mean, I bought a house a year ago, and it’s got like a nice, not big but nice yard. I was super-stoked about it, and I was like, “Oh man, this takes constant maintenance.” So, I don’t know, maybe getting a goat, that’s kind of a leading hypothesis, is that…

Andrew: Anyone listening who’s a goat farmer and has a goat, they can connect us. Get a hold of me, and we’ll get to Adam in Austin.

Adam: Awesome. My wife would be stocked.

Andrew: Canon, Nikon, or another brand? Given you guys are a photography company, more or less.

Adam: I shoot Sony.

Andrew: Oh, nice.

Adam: And so do a lot of us.

Andrew: Who’s someone you strongly disagree with?

Adam: Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

Andrew: Nice, he’s a Montana boy.

Adam: No offense against Montanans.

Andrew: No, he’s a controversial guy here in Montana as well. So, how much money is enough? What would be your number? So, this is money in the bank, you could still definitely work, you know, in the future if you wanted to, you’d feel like it was enough.

Adam: Man, I’ve never run the calculation. I feel like I make enough, kind of got enough right now, certainly to, you know, afford, you know…I could really simplify my life to the point where I already have enough, so, you know, it’s really just a matter of me indulging myself in luxuries that I don’t necessarily need.

Andrew: I’m gonna push a little more. You can either give like an annual amount that you need, like an income per year, or amount of money in the bank.

Adam: Amount of money in the bank? I think if I probably had like a million dollars in the bank, it seems like that would mean I would never really have to do anything again, and just kind of live frugally off that.

Andrew: What’s the worst investment you’ve made in the last 10 years?

Adam: iPhone 7 Plus.

Andrew: I know this is the lightening round, but quickly expound on that?

Adam: It’s too big, and it’s just so baggy. It just frustrates me way more than it delights me. You know, I’m just being whiny. It’s amazing. It’s a super computer in my pocket, and it can do anything. Yeah, I’m just being whiny. But it’s sitting right in front of me, and, you know, it’s an easy target.

Andrew: What’s the best investment that you’ve made in the last 10 years?

Adam: Table saw.

Andrew: Nice. What was the first CD you ever owned?

Adam: That would be Salt-n-Pepa, “Very Necessary,”. I believe “Shoop” was track Number 3 on that.

Andrew: It’s just amazing how you remember where the tracks and the songs are in the CDs.

Adam: Yeah, I mean, any CD that’s come out since 2006, I have no idea.

Andrew: Finally, Bitcoin, if you had to predict a price let’s say five years from now, do you think it’s between…and you have to pick one of the two, closer to zero, or closer to $100,000?

Adam: I think it’s worthless.

Andrew: Worthless, so closer to zero?

Adam: I hope it’s worthless.

Andrew: You short Bitcoin, or you massively short Bitcoin?

Adam: I’m just not buying it, and I’m sick of what’s been cooked, so.

Andrew: Awesome. Adam, this has been a lot of fun, man. I admire what you’ve done, and Peak has done for years, both from the marketing side and also from the product side. So to get a chance to bring you on and grill you for a while, hopefully in a not too abusive manner on this kind of stuff and like clear the story and hear behind the scenes is super cool.

So, if you haven’t checked these guys out, we’ll link up to all their Kickstarters in the show notes, if for nothing else, even if you don’t like photography, the videos are just a blast. Super entertaining, and fun to watch. And if you’re in photography, into photography, well, you probably already know about these guys.

So, make sure to check out their work, Adam, thanks for taking the time, man. This has been a lot of fun.

Adam: Thank you so much, Andrew. I’m totally honored to be here. So, I really appreciate it.

Andrew: That’s gonna do it for this week’s episode, but if you enjoyed what you heard and are interested in getting plugged into a dynamic community of experienced store owners, check us out at

eCommerceFuel is the private, vetted community for eCommerce entrepreneurs. What makes us different is that we really heavily vet everyone that is a member, to make sure that they’re a great fit, that they can add value to our broader community. Everyone that joins has to be doing at least a quarter of a million dollars in sales via their store, and our average member does over seven figures in sales, annually.

So, if you’d like to learn more, if that sounds interesting, you can learn more and apply for membership at

And I also have to thank our two sponsors that make this show possible. Liquid Web, if you are on WooCommerce, or you’re thinking about getting on to WooCommerce, Liquid Web is who you should have host your store, particularly with their managed WooCommerce hosting. It’s highly elastic and scalable, it’s got built-in tools to performance test your store so you can be confident it’s gonna work well, and it’s built from the ground up for WooCommerce.

You can learn more about their offering at

And finally, Klaviyo, for email marketing. They make email segmentation easy and powerful. They integrate with just about every card out there, and help you build incredibly automated, powerful segments that make you money on autopilot. You can check them out, and get started for free at

Thanks so much for listening, and looking forward to seeing you again next Friday.

Want to connect with and learn from other proven eCommerce entrepreneurs? Join us in the eCommerce fuel private community. It’s our tight-knit vetted group for store owners with at least a quarter million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more, and apply for membership at Thanks so much for listening, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again next time.

What Was Mentioned

Flickr: Cheryl Lau

Posted on: June 15th, 2018

Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000 vetted 6 and 7-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

Double Your eCommerce Business in the Next Year requesting the most effective growth and profitability strategies we've unearthed from 5+ years of studying successful stores.

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