Founder Stories: Thomas Bertrand On Building Bento&Co and Ship&Co

In today’s Founder Story we feature Thomas Bertrand founder of Bento&co and Ship&co. 

Read on for lessons he’s learned from launching and marketing two businesses successfully. 

1) Please introduce your business and share your role

I’m the founder of Bento&Co and Ship&Co

Bento&Co is a brand, selling bento boxes and other Japanese kitchen accessories, since 2008. We are based in Kyoto, we mostly sell online in the US and Europe, but we also do wholesale and we have a store in Kyoto as well.

Ship&Co is a shipping solution for ecommerce. Our team is based in Kyoto, Singapore, and Lisbon. We started Ship&Co for us because we needed a better way to prepare shipments for Bento&Co. It’s now a popular shipping app for Shopify sellers in 25 different countries. But we also integrate with other marketplaces and ecommerce platforms like Amazon or eBay.

2) What kind of challenges did you face, and how did you come up with your business idea?

I moved to Japan to study almost 20 years ago. I was blogging a lot about life in Japan and new technologies back in 2005 to 2008.

Having many readers for my blog, probably kindled my interest in Japanese culture. So I decided to start an online business, selling something from Japan to this “community”.
I chose to sell bento boxes and other accessories (bento without the food inside!) because I love food. Later I realized that, not only in Japan but anywhere, people like to cook and pack their food for school or work. But only in Japan, there was such a diversity of lunch boxes. These bento boxes can be cute, small or large, and are usually much nicer than a typical Ziploc or Tupperware box.

We created Ship&Co for us. With tens of orders to ship worldwide every day for Bento&Co, I used to spend hours creating and printing shipping labels on FedEx or DHL websites. We made Ship&Co because no solution was available. Most similar Apps, in the US, were focused on the North-American markets but we needed an app for cross-border shipping. With many years of experience selling and shipping to 100 different countries for Bento&Co; we had a good idea of what to do.
But selling a B2B SaaS is very different from selling physical products online. We are learning every day.

3) How did you prepare for launching your business?  

For Bento&Co – blogging a few years before the launch was all that I needed. 2 hours after launching the store, I got the first order. Other bloggers talked about it. I sent emails to some journalists who introduced my store in magazines and newspapers. It was November 2008, a totally different world. Free marketing, but a few years of blogging behind me helped a lot.

For Ship&Co – I don’t really remember the launch. You never stop to build and launch new features and find different ways to promote your service. We have challenges every single day.

4) Since launching, what types of marketing campaigns and designs have worked best to attract and retain customers?

Email marketing is the best. We use Klaviyo for Bento&Co. We also do ads on Meta and Google. Things change every year, it’s not easy to find the best way to find new customers.

We spend quite a lot of time creating our own content, videos, and photos. We just launched a Podcast to talk about Japanese food and food in Japan, Japanese Food pod!

By sharing and talking with guests about Japanese food, we learn, we have fun and we probably can reach potential customers as well. It’s a very exciting project and I think it could be something quite big for Bento&Co in the future.

For Ship&Co, we have some marketing campaigns with our partners: events with Shopify in Japan and Singapore, and marketing offers with DHL, FedEx, or UPS as well.
Having some established businesses working with us is an effective way to find new customers.

5) What have been the most influential brands for your business? Whose branding and marketing do you aspire to and why?

Is it ok to say none? I’m trying to do what I can. It’s my job. I love Apple, I love Nintendo. I love some small startups, but I’m not sure they influence me for my business.

6) What are your favorite marketing platforms/tools?

I like to use Notions and Asana to manage our marketing and other projects.

7) Who or what inspires and motivates you?
  • Freedom to be my own boss. 
  • Having a to-do list for the day, week, or quarter and making it happen.
    The movie “The Founder”, reminds you that you can be successful after 50 (and because it is very well made).
  • The TV Series Big Timber, to see that any kind of business can be on the brink of collapse (and it’s fun to watch, I love that show).
8) What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way that you would share with entrepreneurs hoping to launch or who have just launched? 
  • Remember that it takes time
  • Persistence is a must-have trait. 
  • Don’t take “no” for an answer.
9) What do you believe are the qualities of a good entrepreneur? And what makes a team successful?
  • Again, persistence is the word to remember here! 
  • A team can be successful if the entrepreneur is good at hiring the right people. Hiring the right team is the most difficult part.
 10) Let us know where we can go to learn more!