A Founder’s Big Bet
Eyal Levy thought Yogibo would be big in
Japan. How could he best expand the brand?
BY 2013, EYAL LEV Y HAD SPENT four years building
Nashua, New Hampshire–based Yogibo into
a successful fun-and-friendly lifestyle brand
centered on its body-hugging beanbag chairs.
The Japanese market tempted him. How
could he expand there?
“You want a simple model when things
are unfamiliar,” says Levy. Franchising stores
would provide the experience Yogibo was
known for. But Levy was daunted by the
prospect of complying with local franchise
laws and monitoring distant operations. The
key was fnding a local distributor he trusted.
To deter all but the most committed, Levy
lowered sales estimates and emphasized
challenges. After fnding a good candidate,
Levy spent months getting to know him.
The chosen distributor was the owner of an
e-commerce business—but Levy knew online
alone wouldn’t cut it. He’d tried that route
when Yogibo launched, and soon learned that
his product’s appeal was tactile. Customers fell
for the chairs by scrooching into them. They
also needed a demonstration to understand
the product. E-commerce provided neither.
Levy succeeded in the U.S. with a model
combining brick-and-mortar outlets,
e-commerce, sales at events and festivals,
and—chiefy for accessories—wholesale.
“There’s a perfect synergy among all these
channels,” says Levy, who insisted on pur-
suing all four in Japan.
The aspiring partner agreed. Levy quickly
accepted several changes desired by that
distributor: adding gift-wrap services and
creating a busier website, both ubiquitous in
Japan. The distributor also pushed for pop-up
stores. At frst, “I did not buy it,” says Levy,
fearing he’d downscale the brand. But then he
visited Japanese malls and saw pop-ups from
the blue-chip likes of Lego and Nike.
Another concern: Pop-ups are smaller
than stores and don’t carry inventory, so
customers can’t walk out with beanbags. But
Levy learned that Japanese customers prefer
to have their products shipped. Also, Levy
realized, with regular stores “the staf has to
wait until customers walk inside to approach
them,” he says. “With a pop-up, you can
smile, and kind of pull them in.”
Today, Japanese sales account for 15 percent of Yogibo’s revenue—which should top
$20 million this year—with minimal strain.
Levy has duplicated the strategy in Canada,
Kuwait, and South Korea: the same rigorous
recruitment, the same contracts, the same
slightly relaxed attitude toward consistency.
“Learning the specifcs of every market is
not feasible for a company our size,” he says.
“Finding the right person who will take our
whole model and localize it is the key.”
Ben Wright, CEO of Velocity
Global, a Denver-based
“I’m not surprised Levy
spent months getting to
know his distributor. Not
only is this a good practice
when making that decision;
it’s the only way to establish trust and a long-lasting
relationship in Japan.”
Alberto Perlman, co-founder
and CEO of Zumba Fitness
“I like how Eyal zeroed in on
the fact that what closes
the sale is touching the
Yogibo. I hope he’s making
sure he can get out of his
distribution agreements if
he’s not happy. I learned
the hard way to always
have outs in contracts.
“Has he tested infomer-cials? Sometimes infomer-cials can replace the need
for a tactile experience—
they’re a great way to
expand internationally as
long as distributors can get
the right margins.”
author of Global Brand
Marketing in the Age of
“I’m astonished by Levy’s
ambition. Going international at this early stage
is daring, given Levy has to
do all the heavy lifting.
“He is right to allow
strategy modifcations. Not
adapting to local conditions
is the most important
reason many international
• SINKING FEELING
A Yogibo beanbag chair in action. Its playful and unusual
shape invites a customer to try it out before buying.
LEAD 46 - INC. - OC TOBER 2017