Guys don't like to shop: That's what 29-year-old Jerry Hum heard countless times when he was starting his online retail start-up geared toward men in 2012.
"It was a constant uphill battle to tell our story," said Hum, co-founder and CEO of Touch of Modern, an online shopping platform for men. "Most investors didn't believe that men shopped."
But a few short years later, Hum has proven his critics wrong. Touch of Modern is on track to deliver annual revenue of approximately $100 million this year, and it expects to become profitable by the fourth quarter of 2016, Hum said. While $100 million is a large number, it's still a tiny fraction of the opportunity in e-commerce overall. E-commerce sales in the United States are forecast to hit nearly $385 billion this year.
The start-up's business strategy has been to offer products that are hard to find in mainstream retail and to emphasize novelty rather than merely discounts.
"If you're relying on nothing other than the discount, the problem is you're always kind of competing with yourself, right? If you discount at 30 percent, people come to expect that. If you're pushing the same product, the only thing you have is the price. You don't have enough to keep people engaged," Hum said.
Hum and co-founders Dennis Liu, Steven Ou and Jonathan Wu have steered away from having price as the main draw to their platform. Instead, they opt for "unique" products that serve as "conversation starters."
"We're curating things that are new and different. People just keep opening our email because people find it more of a content stream than a promotional tool," Hum said.
On launch day, the company posted more than $10,000 in revenue.
Hum studied architecture at Cornell University, an experience he says influenced the way he looked at business.
"Architecture for me was always about creating experiences, not glass and concrete," Hum said. Thinking about how to get people from point A to point B, whether in a building or on an app, always intrigued him.
So Hum taught himself how to code at night, while working as an architect during the day.
"At the beginning we weren't able to get [the platform] to work because we didn't have an optimized app experience," Hum said.
Touch of Modern gained more traction after rounds of feedback from users and redesign, Hum said.
A whopping two-thirds of Touch of Modern's business comes from mobile, echoing a broader shift toward it in the retail industry.
Now is a great time for entrepreneurs to experiment with mobile marketing, Hum said.
"The great thing about a time like now is that the user experience models in mobile aren't that well established. You can still be creative and come up with new experiences," he said.
Men are shopping online more than ever before. Though women still shop online more than men, men are more likely to shop on their phone—a trend Hum is betting will continue.
"When you hit something successful, you definitely know it. It's not like 'Oh, we're not really sure about this, maybe it's just hard and a struggle to scrape by.' You try different things, but when you hit it, you know it," he said.