Meet the Moguls: 5 Takeaways from Emily Ley, Barbara Corcoran, and Andrew Bialecki

meet the moguls simplified emily ley

Editor’s note: Quotes have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

After Emily Ley graduated college, she immediately began climbing the corporate ladder. But although she quickly became successful, she wasn’t fulfilled. So she took the skills she acquired creating her wedding invitations and set out to build Simplified, a direct-to-consumer (DTC) paper planner brand.

In the most recent and final installment of Meet the Moguls, Emily joined Barbara Corcoran, founder of The Corcoran Group and star of ABC’s Shark Tank, and Andrew Bialecki, co-founder and CEO at Klaviyo, on Clubhouse to discuss her journey building her business, and some strategies and tactics that got her to where she is today.

If you missed the live show and you’re looking for a recap, keep reading for five takeaways from the discussion. 

 

1 | Don’t just make a product, solve a problem

All too often, marketers focus too much on what a product does and not how it helps the customer. But Emily has remained hyper-focused on creating education around her brand and helping her customers seamlessly fit her products into their everyday lives.

“I know what it’s like to go shopping for a planner and go home and say, ‘This is it. Today’s the day. I’m going to change my life. I’m going to get my act together.’ And then it doesn’t happen. And that’s because you need the tool, but that’s just part of it. You also need education around how to get the most out of it. And so that’s what sets Simplified apart from other brands,” said Emily.

"...You need the tool, but that's just part of it. You also need education around how to get the most out of it. And so that's what sets Simplified apart from other brands."

Emily Ley, founder, Simplified

Andrew added that this type of messaging also creates a strong emotional connection to the brand that can help create loyal customers.

“There are a thousand to-do lists, software applications, planners—those are dime a dozen. But you’re talking about getting organized and feeling empowered—that’s something everybody wants, and this is a tool to get there,” said Andrew. 

“What you’re ultimately making is not just a product—it’s not just something that gets manufactured, it’s that feeling you give to your customers at the end of the day. There’s nothing that makes you go viral faster than when you become more than just a commodity, but you’re solving a problem and there’s an emotion tied to it,” he said.

 

2 | Follow your own path

When you’re a first-time business owner, it can feel natural to look at what other people in your industry are doing and follow their lead. But while this strategy may work for some, if it doesn’t work for you and your brand, you have to be willing to change courses, as Emily discovered. 

“The way you succeeded in stationery or paper goods when I started out was you went wholesale. That was just known—it’s what you did. We showed up at the National Stationery Show. We paid $30,000 for a booth. We showed all our products. We won ‘Best New Product’ in 2015, and we got picked up by 800 stores around the world. It sounded fantastic. That’s a success story,” said Emily.

But while all seemed to be going according to plan, having twins while traveling for the business made life difficult for Emily.

“When we took a look at all the effort we were putting into wholesale, the profit margin was so slim. It accounted for 40 percent of our revenue, but we had been smart along the way, so we created a website that was contributing 60 percent of our revenue. So we said, ‘If I were to take the effort I’m spending on wholesale and dedicate it to ecommerce where my profit margin is so much bigger, what could happen?’” said Emily.

Ultimately, Emily decided that the best path for her and her business was to move away from wholesale, and invest her time and money in ecommerce—even if it meant not following the traditional path of others in her industry.

“We knew we needed to go where the dollars were, and my heart wasn’t in wholesale. I wanted to connect with women, to create community, and to make an amazing product. So we decided we were going to do it our own way and see what happens,” she said. 

"We knew we needed to go where the dollars were, and my heart wasn’t in wholesale. I wanted to connect with women, to create community, and to make an amazing product. So we decided we were going to do it our own way and see what happens."

Emily Ley, founder, Simplified

“The most worrisome part was, if I cut that part out, would I lose 40 percent of our revenue and not be able to replace it? So we had to think really strategically about what we were going to do with our online presence and how we were going to drive those customers who were purchasing from the retail stores back to our website,” said Emily.

But following her instincts paid off. After Emily cut wholesale out of her strategy, she doubled her ecommerce revenue the next year.

 

3 | Plan ahead

Who better to listen to about planning your marketing calendar than someone who literally sells organizational planners for a living? 

Emily shared how she uses a concept called “batch planning” to organize projects and campaigns with her remote team of nine people.

“We decided to carve out two days twice a year to sit down and plan six months worth of content,” said Emily.

“We said, ‘Let’s sit down, look at our main calendar, and plan out every single email, every single social post, every single product launch, production need, marketing effort, text message—let’s plan out everything we can.’ Brene Brown tells her team to ‘paint it done’ and decide what you want something to look like when it’s completely finished—we try to do that for six months at a time,” said Emily.

Emily said these two days are like a marathon, but it helps set expectations with her team for the rest of the year. 

“Everyone knows when their projects are due, what they have to get done, and it really works. And when the pandemic happened last year and everything got flipped on its head, we were so glad to have that in place because, suddenly, we had people who had to be out of work for different reasons, and it was really helpful. It’s something that’s become a cornerstone to how we do business,” said Emily.

"Everyone knows when their projects are due, what they have to get done, and it really works. And when the pandemic happened last year and everything got flipped on its head, we were so glad to have that in place..."

Emily Ley, founder, Simplified

4 | Take it one step at a time

Sometimes the hardest part of starting a business is deciding to actually do it. So what can you do if you’re trying to get started? 

“Usually the reason we procrastinate is because we’ve got a big problem and it’s intractable. Nobody ever has a hard time putting their socks on because it’s such a simple task. But when you have big tasks, such as launching products or businesses, the problem feels more complicated,” said Andrew.

According to Andrew, the best thing you can do is break every “to-do” into smaller, more manageable steps.

“I start by saying, ‘Okay, let’s take this big task and start to break it down into pieces, and just keep subdividing the problem.’ That helps a lot. Once you’ve got the master plan and you’ve broken that down into 50 to-do’s, then you’ve got digestible chunks,” said Andrew.

“Once you’ve got a list of tractable tasks, all of a sudden, now you’ve got some things you can do. And those are things you can check off bit-by-bit,” he added.

"Once you've got a list of tractable tasks, all of a sudden, now you've got some things you can do. And those are things you can check off bit-by-bit."

Andrew Bialecki, co-founder and CEO, Klaviyo

Barbara also shared a trick she employs with her to-do list to help her feel more productive and get herself in the right mindset.

“I usually make my to-do lists about an hour into the day, and I add two or three things I already did, so I can start the day by crossing off accomplishments—I ate breakfast, got out of bed, and walked to work. I can cross those off, and then I get to the rest of the steps. I feel like I had a head start. It’s kind of like cheating yourself to success, but it helps me out,” said Barbara.

 

5 | Find a way to differentiate your brand

How do you make your brand stand out when others are constantly vying for your customers’ attention?

Emily emphasized the importance of differentiating your brand from competitors and making your product stand out. For her, one of the major ways she does this is through her unboxing experience, which has helped her collect user-generated content (UGC) from customers who subsequently post pictures and videos of their own unboxing experiences on social media.

“It’s important to have amazing packaging because that’s your first introduction to the product itself, so we put a ton of time and research into producing really beautiful packaging. It’s not just about the product itself, but also the box that it comes in and the sticker we put on the outside of every single package. Those kinds of things, those unboxing videos on Instagram, are worth their weight in gold,” said Emily.

Barbara added that these unique moments you create with your brand can leave lasting impressions with customers.

“From my years sitting in the Shark Tank seat and seeing many people come in with packaging, I find it’s your first impression. It’s like how someone dresses or how they smile,” said Barbara.

"From my years sitting in the Shark Tank seat and seeing many people come in with packaging, I find it's your first impression. It's like how someone dresses or how they smile."

Barbara Corcoran, investor and founder, The Corcoran Group

Thanks for joining Klaviyo and Barbara Corcoran for Meet the Moguls on Clubhouse. If you missed past episodes with Pamela J. Booker, Chris Gronkowski, and Nikki Reed, check out the takeaways from this incredible lineup of ecommerce experts.

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