Gugoco Design Boutique: Combining the Old and the New

Gugoco
Gugoco is a New-York based design boutique that produces exquisite jewelry and accessories inspired by the Armenian cultural. It is not a souvenir shop, it is rather a place where something very unique is being created. At Gugoco, they try to combine the old elements of the rich Armenian culture with modern day values.
With their fresh new approach towards jewelry making, Gugoco challenges itself with the vision of making the Armenian culture recognizable throughout the whole world. And, though Gugoco is not usually perceived as a startup, it can be placed under the category of innovative e-commerce businesses. Read our interview with Gugoco founder Aghasi Aghabalyan.

How​ ​did​ ​you​ ​come​ ​up​ ​with​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​Gugoco?

Aghasi: The story behind Gugoco is unbelievable. I had an employee, a Ukrainian lady and once I saw her husband holding a wooden iPhone case in his hand with beautiful engravings on it. When I saw it, an idea came to my mind instantly. I don’t know why but I thought about Armenian khachkars and their engravings. And I thought that some ornaments might look really nice on a wooden phone case.
But I was also wondering whether people would love to buy such a product. And at the same time, I was thinking that it would be really awesome to hold something very traditional, very Armenian in your hands. So, I just quickly made a sketch and found a person who could make those laser engravings on wood. I think this was the moment when the idea of creating a accessory brand came to me. I wanted to make something that could unite the rich Armenian tradition with the modern day products.

So,​ ​​you​ ​have​ ​started​ ​with​ ​iPhone​ ​cases​ ​and​ ​then​ ​you​ ​went on with​ ​jewelry.

Aghasi: Yes, the iPhone cases came first. However, at the beginning, we were not even thinking about Gugoco as a business. We were just having fun making beautiful products. We have a successful web development company in New York (fluger.com) and we were on it. Gugoco was like a hobby for us at first.

How​ ​was the name ​“Gugoco” born?

Aghasi: “Gugo” is the short version of an Armenian male name Gurgen. And “co” is just a nice detail that we added to it. A lot of people say that “Gugoco” sounds both Armenian and Japanese.

I​ ​see​ ​you​ ​give​ ​your​ ​products​ ​Armenian​ ​names.​ ​What​ ​kind of​ ​product​​ ​are​ you ​working on​ ​right now?

Aghasi: The product we are currently working on is a scarf. I cannot disclose much
information about it but I can give you a hint: it’s again something very close to Armenian tradition.

What​ ​tools​ ​are​ ​you​ ​using​ ​for​ ​online​ ​sales?

Aghasi: We are using Shopify. It’s a ready-made tool for e-commerce. It is time and cost effective since you do not need to find a team of developers to create an e-commerce website for you. Also, you do not need to gather huge marketing and support teams to keep your customers satisfied and engaged. Of course, you need to have some basic tech skills to be able to operate your Shopify account. However, it it frees you from a lot of headache. So, it’s worth it.

What​ ​does​ ​the​ ​logo​ ​stand​ ​for?

Aghasi: It is Grigor Lusavorich. This is an illustration taken from really old manuscripts.

Please tell​ ​me​ ​a​ ​little​ ​bit​ ​about​ ​your​ ​team.​ ​I​ ​suppose​ ​you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​creatives​ ​there.

Aghasi: Well, we have two marketing specialists and we also have product developers and designers. In addition, a separate team of designers is working on the packaging design. Our products are ready to go i.e. as soon as you buy them, you can present them to someone as a gift without worrying about packaging. The Gugoco products already come in awesome boxes.

So,​ ​you​ ​have​ ​mentioned​ ​that​ ​you​ ​have​ ​two​ ​marketing​ ​specialists​ ​in​ ​the​ ​team.​ ​What​ ​do​ ​you do​ ​when​ ​conflicts​ ​arise​ ​between your employees?

Aghasi: We view a conflict as something very constructive. It should always be present in the working routine otherwise the outcome might not be good enough. For example, we might have conflicts regarding the size of a bead. Someone might argue that the ideal size is 9.5 mm, another person might say that the bead should be 12 mm. At the end, we come to a consensus and we create something that is really well-planned and worked on.

Hatiq Hatiq 🙂

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If​ ​you​ ​had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

Aghasi: I would not change anything in what I have done in my life. But there are certain things that I would do a bit differently. For example, it is really important to be able to say “No” to certain things or to some people.

How​ ​long do you stick with an idea before giving up?

Aghasi: I never get tired of what I am doing. In other words, I never give up. Also, whatever I do, I try to do it in the best way possible. At the same time, it is important to not take anything too close to your heart.

What​ ​is​ ​the​ ​main​ ​difference​ ​between​ ​being​ ​an​ ​entrepreneur​ ​and​ ​being​ ​an​ ​employee?

Aghasi: When you are an entrepreneur, you have to take the responsibility for the people who work for you. And of course, you should be able to figure out how to attract potential customers and what to do to take your business to the next level.
Another difference between being an entrepreneur and being an employee is that when you have your own business, you hardly ever have time to go on a vacation. And even if
you take one, your mind is always busy with generating ideas for your business.
One of the craziest things about being an entrepreneur is that you can stay at the office till whatever hour you want. One more fun thing about it is that only you can fire yourself no one else can do that. In addition, you are free to experiment and create whatever comes to your mind. It’s an interesting life. And it’s worth it.

Excluding yours, what other company or business do you admire the most?

Aghasi: Well, there are many companies I could speak about. However, I would love to mention the creators of Volterman smart wallet. I know its founders and I know what challenges they have overcome in order to achieve success. And I truly admire them.
Also, there is a design team in Armenia known as Backbone branding. I love their designs: they really stand out.

And lastly, what pieces of advice would you give to entrepreneurs-to-be?

Aghasi:
  1. Never be afraid of anything.
  2. If you can do something really well, then do it.
  3. Never give up.
  4. Never start a business just for the sake of making money. Love what you do!
Armen Margarian

Armen Margarian is an attorney with The Margarian Law Firm.

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