founder of ugmonk
Photo courtesy of http://www.trouvemag.com/
I’ve recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jeff Sheldon. If for some strange reason you’re unfamiliar with Jeff and his work, the following interview is a great chance to finally become a fan along with the rest of us.
Jeff’s an incredible person, running a lifestyle brand consisting of incredibly well-made products. Unafraid to experiment with and not pigeonhole his brand, he’s taken Ugmonk to tremendous success, while ultimately setting the bar for makers of lifestyle products everywhere. We briefly cover some important aspects of his work – including how he’s kept the brand sustainable, why he still chooses to design every product, and being nice to people.
A special thanks to Hover, our domain management provider, for their partnership and extended generosity in making The Modern Block possible. Use code “modernblock” at checkout to save 10% on your first purchase, and simplify the headaches of your domain registration process with Hover.
Briefly, can you share the history of Ugmonk? I started Ugmonk in 2008 and ran it for two years while I was still working at my full-time job at a design agency. I had no plans for Ugmonk to become my full-time job but as it continued to grow, I thought about how much further I’d be able to take it if I had more time. I left my day job in 2010 and haven’t looked back. Since then, Ugmonk has grown exponentially.
With products ranging from clothing and prints to workspace essentials and now, even coffee, the Ugmonk brand doesn’t really seem to fit into any one category. How do you personally define Ugmonk? When I started Ugmonk, I knew I didn’t want to limit the brand to just t-shirts. I wanted it to be primarily about the design style and mentality which could be applied to all types of products. As Ugmonk has grown, I’ve been able to expand into other types of products and it’s been fun to experiment with everything from leather goods to coffee. Ugmonk doesn’t really fall into a single category, it’s really just its own thing.
“Ugmonk doesn’t really fall into a single category, it’s really just its own thing.
From my understanding, you didn’t exactly come from an entrepreneurial background. Who were some of your earlier inspirations in business? Who are some today, if any? Growing up, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur but have actually found that I enjoy many parts of running Ugmonk in addition to just the design and creative side. Some current people that inspire me are Seth Godin, Jason Fried, and Gary Vaynerchuk.
With so much great talent out there and the enormous growth Ugmonk has seen over the years, is there a reason why you remain responsible for personally designing every single product? The main reason is that designing is my favorite part. I started Ugmonk to fill that creative void and still to this day, it allows me to realize that same passion. There’s also a certain consistency that it brings to the brand. Everything feels like it was designed by the same person.
Can you talk to me about intentionally keeping Ugmonk small? Yes, I’ve kept Ugmonk small on purpose to maintain full control of the brand while also keeping the flexibility and autonomy that I love. Rather than hire full-time employees I work with a variety of freelancers and contractors for the various parts of the business. This allows us to stay lena and nimble while still scaling up revenue.
I saw you recently took the team on a beautiful retreat. Why is this important for Ugmonk? We just started doing an annual offsite retreat to get away for a weekend and focus on big picture stuff. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and forget where we are actually going. We spend the weekend taking a step back to plan and analyze what’s going right and what needs work.
With eight successful years in business, what’s a piece of advice you have for younger entrepreneurs; what do you mostly attribute your success to? Work hard and be nice to people. It sounds simple but there aren’t really any shortcuts to success. Building Ugmonk has been a slow and steady journey for eight years.
“Work hard and be nice to people.
Not too long ago, you released Ugmonk’s rebrand and newly designed website. It seems to provide a much more personal experience for its customers. Yes, Ugmonk 2.0 was a huge launch for us. I redesigned our logo and our site from the ground up with a goal to be as transparent as possible. The new Journal has allowed me to share more of my experiences and better connect with my followers and customers. In an age where most brands tend to feel robotic and impersonal, I wanted to make Ugmonk feel human and approachable.
With such a loyal fan base from the original Ugmonk branding, was the idea of rebranding daunting? Were you afraid you might have gone in the wrong direction? For sure. I knew redesigning the logo might cause a stir, but people tend to resist any type of change at first. As Ugmonk has grown and evolved over the years the logo started to feel out of place. Everything else was super clean, simple and minimal, but the original logo didn’t quite fit anymore. It helped us well for the first 7.5 years, but was time for a change. You can read more about my process here.
Ultimately, what do you want people to remember Ugmonk for? Quality, design-driven products created by a designer who cares about every detail.