Sitting Down with Andrej Kostresevic, a Founder of "Expack"
Imagine having a little piece of home sent to you while you're abroad...well that's exactly what thought occured in the minds of the founders of "Expack." I should denote that my interest in this company was sparked in my third year living in Istanbul, and that's mostly because I thought to myself, "I really wish I had known about this....you know, ten years ago." Then, of course, the rebuttal to that would be that Expack didn't exist ten years ago. It's fairly new to the game, and it's making some waves for expats around the world.
I should note just in the interest of being up front with my readership that this isn't "sponsored content" in any sense of the word. My interest in this company comes purely from a standpoint of having been an expat in many different nations, and thinking about what role this company could have served to "bring home to me." I reached out to them as a travel blogger and an interested party, and this interview with Andrej is the result!
1. How did "Expack" come to be? More specifically, how did the founders, all from different parts of the globe, find themselves at the same table?
We started working together a couple of years ago under the Nomads “tent”. (Nomads.co is the tribe that started the direct-to-consumer incubator that launched and scaled Expack.) Although we were working on different projects for various clients at the time, we all had an underlying desire to do something together. To build our own brand that would allow us to use our skills to the maximum without any outside influences or restrictions.
2. For those who don't know, what is "Expack?" I suppose now is your opportunity to make a pitch to my readership!
Expack is the first subscription box for expatriates - every month, users get a box full of the items they miss the most from back home. Our first product is a popular snack food subscription, and we are working on launching a few other ways to bring you a piece of home - including a poutine subscription for Canadians living in the US.
"We’re a box of home, not a random set of snacks or products"
3. As I understand it, Expack is a service that is the first of its kind. Why did you feel as if this was a void that needed to be filled?
We are all expats ourselves - the CEO is Bosnian, our head of logistics and customer happiness is Cuban, our marketing cofounder is Puerto Rican and our CTO is French. We all miss foods from home, and we were filling a void we were feeling ourselves.
4. How was the process of taking this as a concept or idea into action? Was the transition seamless or were there bumps along the way?
We like to test things in quick iterations. Immediately after deciding to test this concept we launched a small Facebook ad campaign to see how people would react. They responded by gushing over the idea (with words like “finally!”) and tagging all their expat friends, so that seemed promising. We then put up a quick “waitlist” landing page and started collecting emails as another way of testing interest. The next step was to take credit cards and measure how easy/hard true acquisition would be.
There were bumps, there still are. We all have digital backgrounds but direct-to-consumer sales was a new set of skills had to learn. Also - while we’ve been moving ones and zeroes around most of our lives, physical atoms are a different story - we had a huge learning curve when it comes to sourcing products, fulfillment, logistics, shipping, customs, all while growing the brand, and maintaining a high-level of responsiveness to our customers. To say we are all multi-taskers is a true understatement.
5. What has the response been from your customers thus far?
I think we can comfortably say that Expack was an instant hit - we’ve struggled to keep up with demand. We reached 1M ARR in under a year, despite some serious challenges on the supply side. We’re excited to watch the growth now that we’ve secured reliable bulk supply of goodies and a scalable warehousing, fulfillment and shipping partners.
Unlike any other subscription box, Expack does not introduce new brands to its customers which makes it a bit challenging. People know what they miss from home and each individual is different so pleasing thousands of users each month has its ups and downs. One of our surveys asked for best and worst items. Madeleines won both categories for our French Expack - go figure.
We’ve had amazing boxes and not so great ones but by engaging in an open dialog with our users, and switching to our new variety box model, we’ve managed to find a way to please just about everyone. We have some even more exciting things in the works but too early to talk about those too much (hint: swipe left/right.)
"Our mission is to bring a piece of home to anyone living far away from the place they call home."
6. You've got a unique idea here, are you worried about others copying? What do you think sets you apart?
I think we’re at a point where we fear complacency more than competition. We’re still a fairly young business and although we do keep an eye out for competitors, we’re focused on refining our offering. We’re a box of home, not a random set of snacks or products. As we expand our line of products we hope to set ourselves even further from other food subscription services. We’ve gained a lot of insights for the countries we offer and that gives us a competitive edge.
7. What was the moment that you knew that "Expack" could really be something? Or is that a moment you're savouring for later and have yet to enjoy?
Every company goes through multiple inflection points, so that’s a feeling that we’ve run into a few times now. I guess the earliest was probably this:
That’s pretty representative of the early comments - hearts, smiles, “yay’s” and “OMG FINALLY’s”, plus a steady stream of sharing and tagging. Our customers have always been clear about one thing - they LOVE their box of home. Most expats immediately get the concept. (of course - a good idea that a lot of people like doesn’t always equal a good business - between the small and fragmented market, expensive products which are not a commodity, complex and expensive shipping - true success is still TBD)
8. What's one story behind the scenes at "Expack" that you've never shared publicly before that readers and customers would likely really be intrigued by?
Since we started shipping worldwide, we’ve learned a lot about the peculiarities of certain countries, and we’ve even had to stop doing business with some of them. :(
We recently found out that anything we sent untracked to one specific country consistently disappeared in transit. Since tracked shipping to this country costs $80 USD, and we charge $45 for our International Expacks, the only option we had was to cancel the country, and refund the customers, while we look for alternate shipping partners with affordable tracked rates.
There were a couple of customers that Marly, our head of logistics and customer service (we all wear many hats), REFUSED to let us refund and insisted we send them a tracked box.
One was a gift, and she said “No way! This is a gift - we can’t ruin someone else’s surprise!”
The other - she said: “This pregnant lady has been looking forward to her Flakies for almost a month! You can’t do that to a pregnant woman!”
The other thing your readers may find interesting: we are setup to reinvest all profits back into the company as we grow - most of the founders have not drawn a salary since we launched, even though we have been running a 7-figure company for a while now. As we get bigger and can get better pricing, the profits continue to be reinvested, so our boxes get better. (so if you want more goodies in your Expacks - tell your friends about us ;)
9. Where do you see "Expack" going from here? Are you aiming to cover the globe in "Expacks?"
We’ve seen people use Expack as a noun to describe a package sent from home, that’s an achievement in itself. Yes, we want to have Expacks from many many countries.
Our mission is to bring a piece of home to anyone living far away from the place they call home. A piece of home can be many different things, so we plan to expand our products and services as widely as our audience tells us it makes sense. We have a list of potential “pieces of home” which is a mile long. Just not enough time in the day to do it all.
We frequently collaborate with other companies in our space - we like to say that every competitor is a potential partner, and we much prefer collaborating rather than doing everything ourselves! Following this strategy, we ultimately want to become a marketplace open to anyone who can offer our customers a piece of home.
Andrej, Nina and Marly - 3/4ths of the founding team (missing Julien) ziplining in Puerto Rico. It was during this trip that the Expack idea was first proposed by Nina (middle).
Is this something that you wish you could get your hands-on? Do you like the idea and how it came to be? What do you think about the name "Expack?" Any and all comments are welcome below. I read and respond to each and every one!