Episodes > Season 3 Episode 23

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How Starsoul started the first cause-driven t-shirt subscription

Julio Villarreal, Founder, Starsoul

What's in this episode?

On this episode we’re chatting with Julio Villarreal, former US Marine turned subscription ecommerce founder of Starsoul.

Starsoul, is the first cause-driven t-shirt subscription business whose mission is to help others with their mission. We talk about how the idea for the business was formed right in the early days of the pandemic as well as how Starsoul gives back to charities monthly based on the cause they’re supporting.

We also chat about why the subscription business model was so appealing to the brand especially when it came to financial forecasting and inventory management. Lastly we hear about what’s next for Starsoul as they continue to grow and scale.

So let’s get started, Julio thanks for joining us!

Check out Starsoul.

Episode transcript

Scott Meiklejohn: Hey, I'm your host, Scottie from Recharge. And on this episode of Hit Subscribe, we're chatting with Julio Villarreal, former US Marine turned subscription ecommerce founder of starsoul. Starsoul is the first cause-driven t-shirt subscription business whose mission is to help others with their mission. We talk about how the idea of the business was formed right in the early days of the pandemic in North America as well as how starsoul gives back to charities monthly based on the cause they're supporting. We also chat about why the subscription business model was so appealing to the brand, especially when it comes to financial forecasting and inventory management. And lastly, we hear about what's next for starsoul as they continue to grow in scale. So let's get this started.
Julio, thanks for joining us.

Julio Villarreal: Thank you for having me.

Scott Meiklejohn: So could you tell us a little bit about yourself and a little bit about starsoul?

Julio Villarreal: A little bit about myself, I'm a former Marine. I've owned several businesses here and my wife has actually been in marketing and she's owned her own business for a few decades now not to age us, but starsoul was just a natural transition in our life. Having recently had a son and just with the pandemic, having a different light cast on what we're doing and what we're giving back to our community and society. Starsoul came about and it's actually an idea that my wife had put on the shelf years ago and the pandemic brought it to a boiling point and we dusted it off and put it into motion.

Scott Meiklejohn: I love this story. Could you bring me back, talking about several years ago in the pandemic, can you walk me back to March 2020 when you and your family are on a road trip to Disney World right?

Julio Villarreal: All right. So it was my son's first birthday. So we want to make it a tradition of taking him to Disney World on his birthday. And it's been a great tradition. And on our trip back, we were we're driving home and on the radio, we were listening to all of these different things. And you know, COVID came out of the blue, but it was around. We weren't expecting it. I think none of us were expecting it to be here in the US. None of us I think were really prepared for what was about to take place. And on our trip home, I think it was a Sunday. We heard that Disney World and all of the parks were shutting down. So that was the last day that they were open and everything was shutting down.
And I think that was the real moment where it hit us like, wow, this is serious. And when we got home, we're gathering ourselves and I went to my current business, which was a fitness center and we had a notice in the mail saying, Hey, tomorrow, close the business. Mandatory. And I think that those things really hit home and just looking back on it was like, wow, we need to do something.
I think all of us were in a panic. Pretty much everybody's source of income was put on hold and that's when it really shined a light, I think for all of us as a whole, what was really important. You start looking at your family members and you realize, wow, working all the time, you neglect your health, neglect yourself, you neglect your family and just really put into perspective what's really important because nothing else matters at the end of the day. It doesn't matter how much money you have in your bank, if your health is not in order, you're not giving back to your community or helping others out, what are you doing? And that's where we kind of put this whole ball into motion and it's definitely a passion that we both had within us separately. And now together it was just a natural flow. And it's something that we are very excited about.

Scott Meiklejohn: So on the website, it says starsoul is the first cause driven t-shirt subscription. So yeah. Can you tell us a little bit about how it works? I think that's probably where you were just about to go.

Julio Villarreal: So starsoul is... We have 12 causes that we choose for the year. So one cause a month. And for every cause we choose seven charities or nonprofits and we vet those through not only our own investigation, you know, looking them up, reaching out to them. And we really want to choose organizations that are boots on the ground, if you will, making an impact. Something that we tangibly see on a day to day basis. And how it works is the cause inspires a shirt. So I think as you can see here, you're not alone. And this was inspired by... This month albeit current events, it's mental health awareness. And just in this it demonstrates a one in four Americans are battling some mental health issue. And all of the shirts that we produce are cause inspired. So a hundred percent of those proceeds from the sale of these shirts go to those chosen charities of the month.

Scott Meiklejohn: And if you're listening those right now, we'll drop a link so you can check out the t-shirts. Julio's wearing one right now. I love to hear about that. When you mentioned the Disney World park thing, I could just picture that so well, and I remember them saying at the time, I think they'd closed down twice previous in their history and yeah, just how shocking that is to have. You know, you see it in the world and you see it impact your own business.

Julio Villarreal: It was a surreal moment. And the only other time I was impacted in that degree I was currently in the Marines overseas in Japan, 911 happened. And it happened to be, on our part it was at night. So watching this play live on TV, you're like, "No this can't be real. This is a movie." And this was kind of like that same feeling, not to the gravity of loss at the time, but it was that same feeling. And then you realize, wow, this is going to hurt.

Scott Meiklejohn: Yeah. I know the unease of looking past that. I just remember those early days going, like "How long will this last? How is this going to work? What's going to happen next?" Speaking about... Oh yeah, no, please keep going.

Julio Villarreal: Speaking on that, you get told, "oh, you're going to be closed for two weeks a month, three months, six months". And all of a sudden you're like, "I give up, I'm not trying to predict it anymore".

Scott Meiklejohn: Exactly. Yeah. And then you got to pivot. You got to think about new ideas, which is why I love starsoul and thinking about how can we build off this? What do people need? I loved you mentioning giving back to the community and how fulfilling and important that is. When we had our pre-call, you mentioned why charities, I was going to say, love you, but why it is different for charities to work with you? Because you had mentioned how other companies that maybe do a one off day it's a make or break for them. Could you speak about that a bit?

Julio Villarreal: So what we've gathered from talking to charities along the way is that a lot of them have to forecast and budget and just like any business per se, you have to build your yearly forecast off of, for some of these charities what could be one day or just a certain month. Whereas we want to shake that up a bit and give them some more financial security in a sense through this, where we support charities year round. It's not just, for me being a veteran, it's not just on Veteran's Day or in November. Like that's something that we want to be a part of year round and support them year round. So it's definitely a breath of fresh air from them, knowing that they're gaining this support throughout the year, rather than just a particular day or month.

Scott Meiklejohn: And so speaking of that recurring, when you and your wife were talking about this, when did subscriptions come to the program when you're formulating this idea of starsoul?

Julio Villarreal: It was definitely a natural transition as far as business model goes, because I've never dealt with a subscription business model. And just going about it and being in the different businesses I have, cost is always an issue and forecasting is always an issue. And I think the subscription model was kind of like a, it was a natural marriage for this business in a sense that it helps us with our, our forecasting. It helps us with our budget and definitely helps us control inventory because the last thing we want to do is carry too much inventory at the end of the month, to where now we're eating into the donation that we're able to make. So this helps us minimize all costs and maximize all donations to charities.

Scott Meiklejohn: Yeah. That's one of the great benefits of being able to forecast out whether it's inventory, whether it's your own finances, the recurring repeating orders is just fantastic for that. Could you walk me through if I'm a new customer and I'm interested in checking out starsoul, just how the program works.

Julio Villarreal: So we encourage everyone to subscribe annually, but it's there's no strings attached. When you hit subscribe, you get a world changer shirt, which says I'm not wearing a shirt, I'm changing the world. In essence, the minute you hit subscribe, you are making a difference. And then every month at the beginning of the month, you get the cause driven t-shirt for that month. Then you get not only the shirt, but all of the literature and knowledge behind it. Who we're supporting. What we're doing. And also the information behind the design of the t-shirt. That way, not only when you're wearing it, not only are you bringing awareness, but you're also an ambassador to the cause.

Scott Meiklejohn: I just love that.

Julio Villarreal: And that's just something that we want to build that ownership and that brand loyalty to where you feel good about it. You're actually doing something. You don't have to worry about a special day you're making an impact. Every month, every day, you're making impact. Every time you put on the shirt, you're raising awareness.

Scott Meiklejohn: Yeah. I love that. So you mentioned mental health, you mentioned veterans, tell me a little bit more, some of the other charities that you guys are involved with, are looking to be involved with.

Julio Villarreal: So or June it's we're doing our animal awareness. So we have a few different causes that we're supporting in June, which are The Elephant Sanctuary, The Wildlife Fund and the Oceanic Preservation Society, just to name a few. And for us, it's going beyond just the awareness, the fundraising aspect, it's actually doing a little bit more. So for the month of June, we haven't mentioned the to subscribers yet because we kind of like to do the big reveal, but we've actually as a whole, adopted an elephant.

Scott Meiklejohn: So great.

Julio Villarreal: So we've adopted an elephant from an animal rescue that takes those elephants in from circus performance, things of that nature and puts them into a sanctuary, which is actually located here in the states.
And you know, that's just one of those steps of us going above and beyond, I wouldn't call it above and beyond, but beyond just what we're doing as a whole. Also me and my wife, we do our own charitable work as individuals. And we encourage that to all of the subscribers, all of the starsoul family, if you will. And it's just to, I guess, invoke that emotion of just doing more on a daily basis. In your community, you have the power to change the world. And if you think about it, just changing one person's world for that day makes a difference. Kind of like dropping a pebble in the water. It makes a ripple. And if we have those ripples of kindness, continuing to expand, you're affecting more than just the person you're helping or the individuals you're helping. It compounds on that. And that's what we want to do.

Scott Meiklejohn: I totally agree. Everyone can do their part. I know it feels very daunting, but you can make impactful moments in your community and connections and that's where it starts, just starting with those ripples.

Julio Villarreal: Absolutely.

Scott Meiklejohn: So we're recording this in the last days of May. We're about to hit June, not to put you on the spot, but I know we were talking before there's some other stuff happening in June with starsoul. Do you want to mention that?

Julio Villarreal: So in June, we're going to launch our starsoul kids line, which is going to be dedicated just like the original subscription. A hundred percent of the proceeds are going to be donated to charities. The only caveat to that is that those are going to be all kid inspired charities. So things like child hunger, child abuse, education, autism, pediatric cancer, things of that nature. So those funds generated from the starsoul kids line would all be focused on kids' charities.

Scott Meiklejohn: And, and these are kids' sizes too now, right. That where kids can wear these and help spread that cost.

Julio Villarreal: Yeah. So this would be everything from onesies all the way through youth sizes.

Scott Meiklejohn: That's so great. Yeah. I bet your son's already rocking some of those hey? Just trying out those demos. Yeah.

Julio Villarreal: He rocks the world changer shirt and it's definitely a head turner and those shirts are all going to be inspirational. Things of that nature. We want to make, we want to make you look, but we don't need to provoke any other emotions to it. So those are just going to be kid-centric kid friendly shirts. We're definitely looking forward to it. It's exciting.

Scott Meiklejohn: That's very great to hear. I'm very excited about that too. So starsoul launched January 2022. I love to hear you guys are like just off the ground now. It's so exciting to talk to merchants who are just starting out. Could I throw that question at you? What are something you've learned in these the first months of 2022 starting this business? What have you learned about the business? About subscriptions? Does anything stand out to you?

Julio Villarreal: I would say to be honest with you, I don't think we've had the opportunity yet to unlock the full potential of the subscription model. So we're still building on that. And you know, being in business several years the business environment is changing as a whole when it comes down to marketing and things of that nature. It's not an easy feat, but it's rewarding at the end of the day. So we're definitely still unlocking that potential. And it's great to see it unfolding every day.

Scott Meiklejohn: All right. I'll give you one more like retrospective/introspective question. That would be, if you could go back to Julio in that car and give him advice about starting this business, anything you've learned or anything to avoid, anything to really focus on, what kind of advice would you give him?

Julio Villarreal: Start sooner.

Scott Meiklejohn: Start sooner.

Julio Villarreal: To put it into action sooner. And I think that's where... We've all had that moment when there's been tragedy or things of that nature, where we all look to ourselves or to our significant others and saying, "What could we do? What can I do?" And just by getting out there and getting involved, you're already making a difference. And I think that looking back, I wish we would've started sooner. And I think that's one of those things where we're trying to navigate, and when's the right time and plan out everything perfect. But you know, it's something that I've realized before and I forgot. There's never a perfect time. Just get out there and do it.

Scott Meiklejohn: Yep. I totally agree. We talked to several entrepreneurs just like yourself and they all echo that same kind of thing. You just have to have this "I'm just going to go and see what happens. And if I fail, I fail, but I'm just going to start. I'm going to get the momentum going."

Julio Villarreal: Absolutely.

Scott Meiklejohn: Well, we ask this to every merchant towards the end of the conversation. And that is just simply, is there anything you subscribe to a physical subscription product that comes to your house that you're getting on a recurring basis?

Julio Villarreal: We actually subscribe to incense. So like the herbal extracts of oils and it's one of those things that's big with me, but big with my wife. It's like when you walk into your home and you have those scents hit you, it's kind of that relaxation, you kind of reset as soon as you open up the door. So that's definitely something we have a subscription to where we have them all over the house and it's definitely worth it.

Scott Meiklejohn: Yeah. I love that. Well, Julio, thank you so much for joining us on Hit Subscribe. We wish you and your wife and all of starsoul the best of luck for the rest of the year.

Julio Villarreal: Thanks Scott.

Scott Meiklejohn: We want to thank Julio once again for joining us. If you're interested in starsoul, you can head over to officialstarsoul.com. And if you're looking for more of our episodes, you can check us out at getrecharge.com/hitsubscribe.

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