Unpacking Small Business

In our first episode of Unpacking Small Business, we chat with a "curiously awesome" entrepreneur with an unconventional path to success.

At UPS, we know each company has a story to tell, especially small businesses and startups. And we want to share one of the most interesting stories in small business today.

In an era when it’s easy for customers to skip commercials, Jamie Salvatori has built his business by creating ads so entertaining that consumers seek them out.

Salvatori is the founder of Vat19, an e-commerce store that sells “curiously awesome” products: two-foot-long gummy worms, the world’s spiciest lollipop and the largest stress ball you’ll ever see.

But here’s the wrinkle. Vat19 promotes their products with hilarious, self-made videos that rack up millions of YouTube views (in fact, they have more than 6 million subscribers). Fans who otherwise skip commercials sign up for alerts when Vat19 posts new videos.

How did Salvatori do it? How did he go from “broke” — his words, not ours — to redefining how to market what you sell?

UPS Vice President of Global Marketing Chris Byrne traveled to the Vat19 headquarters in St. Louis to unpack the answers.

Watch Unpacking Small Business: Vat 19

Highlights

Chapter 1: The Vat19 Story  (starts at 0:01)
Chapter 2: Hiring Philosophy  (starts at 3:00)
Chapter 3: Time Management  (starts at 6:14)
Chapter 4: E-Commerce  (starts at 10:31)
Chapter 5: Growing International  (starts at 14:19)
• Chapter 6: Embracing Setbacks  (starts at 18:06)

In a wide-ranging conversation, Salvatori reminisces on his inauspicious beginning as a small business owner — and how a major pivot shaped his entrepreneurial journey.

He also shares his secrets to success and explains how aspiring entrepreneurs can get their start.

Salvatori and Byrne share tips for hiring, time management, plugging into e-commerce, taking your business international and — equally important — overcoming setbacks.

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Pointing to Salvatori’s business growth, Byrne highlights how UPS can solve the most daunting problems for small businesses looking to compete in the global marketplace.

Vat19 turned to UPS for help mastering harmonized tariff codes and calculating duties and taxes, as well as selling their products to military bases and locations around the world. Today, international markets account for roughly 30 percent of Vat19’s revenue.

Like many aspects of small business ownership, the most important lessons emerge through trial and error.

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For Salvatori, that meant learning to identify within 20 minutes who would fit into the Vat19 culture, balancing strategy with day-to-day problems and knowing when to act on — or ignore —  feedback.

As Byrne points out, Salvatori effectively solved one of the challenges for any small business owner: getting eyeballs on your product.

What is Salvatori’s secret for customer engagement? What does he wish he knew when he started? And how did he succeed in creating a Disneyland of sorts for the 11-year-old child in all of us?

For those answers — and to see Byrne become an honorary member of the Vat19 team (through a crazy jelly bean challenge) — watch the video.

Editor’s note: In celebration of National Small Business Week (May 5-11), we invited UPS customers and suppliers to share their entrepreneurial journeys and lessons learned along the way. You can find our most recent small business stories here.

Visit Chris Byrne's Linkedin profile page.
Chris Byrne is the Vice President of Global Marketing at UPS. Across a 22-year career, he's held senior leadership positions in marketing, sales, business strategy, operations and innovation.

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Jamie Salvatori is the founder and owner of the e-commerce gift store, Vat19. Known for its novelty products, the company markets via YouTube to sell their merchandise. The channel has more than 6 million subscribers.

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