In 2007 Steve Chou’s wife, Jennifer, wanted to spend more time with their growing family. So she quit her job. The Chous launched Bumblebee Linens, an osCommerce-powered online store. Steve, a former microprocessor engineer, focused on the technology and marketing sides of the company. Jennifer managed the operations.
Fast forward to 2020, and Bumblebee Linens is a seven-figure ecommerce company selling handkerchiefs, napkins, and other cloth products. Steve is now an ecommerce celebrity, having launched the “My Wife Quit Her Job” blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, which collectively publishes educational content for current and aspiring entrepreneurs.
I spoke with Steve recently about the Chou’s ecommerce business, his “My Wife” content portals, and, yes, the realities of using osCommerce in 2020. What follows is our entire audio conversation and a transcript, edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about you and your business.
Steve Chou: My wife and I started our ecommerce store selling handkerchiefs online. She wanted a handkerchief for photos. Couldn’t find any. Ended up finding this Chinese manufacturer, imported a bunch, used maybe six or so, sold the rest on eBay. They went like hotcakes. Then, later on, she wanted to stay at home with the kids. We got back in touch with that vendor and launched our store, Bumblebee Linens, in 2007.
Bandholz: That was approximately when Shopify was starting. You had Magento back then, osCommerce, Yahoo.
Chou: The big, fully hosted platform was Yahoo. But I’m an open-source guy because I’m an engineer. I want all the source code. So we went with osCommerce. We’re still on osCommerce, believe it or not.
Bandholz: How many headaches has that been?
Chou: Not too bad. Every five years or so, I do a major update. It’s fun to add functionality to the store. Most tools have an API now. If I’m bored one afternoon, I’ll fire one up and add a new feature.
Bandholz: Is the platform still supported?
Chou: That’s a good question. I’m not sure. At one point, I went through almost every line of code. I would love to switch at some point. But I don’t want to lose all my search traffic. I’ve had several friends who switched to different platforms and lost half of their traffic. It’s too risky.
Our business is not on autopilot, however. I’m constantly adding things. This year I added SMS. A couple of years ago, it was Facebook Messenger — developing flows for giveaways, loyalty programs, and that sort of thing. Whenever there’s a new technology that comes out, I try it.
At some point, something that will compel me to bite the bullet and switch. It just hasn’t gotten to that point yet.
Bandholz: What are you looking for?
Chou: I’m looking for nothing right now, which is why I haven’t switched. Things are good. It’s a seven-figure store. But these days I use it as a laboratory. So anything new that comes out, I’ll try it on the store and then write about it on the blog and report actual numbers. I’m fully transparent. I don’t think anyone’s going to knock off a handkerchief store anytime soon.
Bandholz: The competition is nonstop for Beardbrand.
Chou: Your market is much bigger than mine. We have weddings and a subset of older customers that collect them.
Bandholz: What is getting the most traction on the store these days?
Chou: SMS is amazing. It’s the next big thing. Our functionality is very basic at this point. I have messages on my site to encourage visitors to text a special word to a number and receive free stuff. I have a spin-to-win popup where participants have to redeem the prize through SMS. Whenever folks place an order, they get an SMS. Then I send special offers.
We do a monthly flash sale. We do other sales, and we send content — that sort of thing. What I like about SMS are conversations. I’ve saved many orders just through SMS. People have a question, and we provide an answer. It’s natural for them to reply. Then we can establish a conversation versus an email where people don’t expect a response immediately.
For us, an SMS subscriber is worth five to eight times more than one on email.
Bandholz: Changing the subject, are you in tune with what’s going on with Shopify, BigCommerce, and other platforms?
Chou: I am. I have to keep up to date. I try to avoid SaaS fees. If I can code a feature on the weekend, I’ll do it. I’ve found, in general, that some SaaS companies (beyond ecommerce platforms) offer functionality that isn’t worth the effort. Little things like popups or whatnot, I can usually code those up pretty quickly.
Bandholz: What else you doing? You’ve got a YouTube channel.
Chou: Yes. It’s called “My Wife Quit Her Job,” the same name as my blog. I’m up to 17,000 subscribers. I started getting serious about it six months ago. I still don’t know what I’m doing, so I can’t comment on it. I was going to have you look at it and give me suggestions.
Bandholz: Talk me through it. I love hearing from entrepreneurs who are dipping their toes into YouTube.
Chou: If I can get folks to watch my videos, there’s a pretty good chance they will visit my blog and buy my courses or an affiliate product. I’ve been blogging for 11 years and podcasting for six. Most people remember me for my podcast because they listen to me for an hour. The YouTube viewers probably aren’t as serious as the podcast listeners because YouTube videos are just 10 minutes or so. But being able to see and hear someone adds a tremendous amount of depth. So that’s why I’m doing it.
Bandholz: Your “My Wife Quit Her Job” is a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel. How do you split your day between that content-creation side and running an ecommerce business?
Chou: The ecommerce business is roughly two days a week. The rest is My Wife Quit Her Job. I work with my wife on the ecommerce store, but she’s not involved with My Wife Quit Her Job, even though she inspired the title. She does operations on the ecommerce store. I do the marketing and development work. My Wife Quit Her Job is mainly content creation, as you mentioned. Every week I publish a blog post, a YouTube video, and a podcast episode. I also run an annual event.
Bandholz: You’re well connected. What brands, people, or companies do ecommerce well?
Chou: Every successful ecommerce company that I’ve had on the podcast puts out some form of content. They’re not a store that just pushes products. Your company, Beardbrand, is strong on YouTube. Others might emphasize blogging or social media.
I had someone on the podcast who sells products live, like an infomercial, via Facebook. She makes millions of dollars every year. She has her own private label brand of clothing and accessories.
You have to find your one thing and do it well.
Bandholz: How can listeners learn more about you and reach out?