Joel Primus is a life coach and co-founder of Kosan Travel. Aside from a travel agency, he has also founded the underwear brand Naked, and he has also written the book “Getting Naked: The Bare Necessities of Entrepreneurship & Start-ups.”
At Kosan Travel, Joel Primus strives to fulfill the mission of making and curating “the world’s best travel clothing and gear.” Along the way, he also hopes to gain “loads of inspiration and information to help facilitate and connect travelers with unique places, locals, and each other.
Likewise, Joel Primus founded Kosan Travel because he believes that “travel makes the world a more tolerant and understanding place.” When enough people get to go out more, see the world, and connect with other people, they can begin to make the world a better place for everybody.
Aside from Kosan Travel, Joel Primus has also produced the documentary “Raising Global Citizens.” In the film, Joel took his two daughters on a trip around the world “with hopes of growing closer as a family.” He hoped to use the trip to prove that travel is a valuable part of raising children “to be compassionate human beings who feel part of the greater global community.”
The trip took Joel Primus and his family to “all corners of the globe—from the Middle East, to South America, to the edge of the Arctic Circle.” Besides producing films and founding Kosan Travel, Joel Primus has also founded the underwear brand Naked, which went public in 2015.
As human beings and entrepreneurs, we’re entitled to two things, our attitude and our effort. Joel Primus, Kosan Travel
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Joel Primus: Sure thing! It’s always hard to pick a start because one thing is always leading to another in life. As one door closes another opens, so to speak. I was a runner all through high school. I was fortunate enough to receive a full ride to a great school down in North Carolina. I’d just qualified for the World Cross Country Champs and then on a train running and then I tore my achilles. Much like my achilles, my running dreams were shattered and to make a long story short, I lost my mind a little, decided to hitchhike across the country, travel around the world.
Then one hot, steamy night in Lima, Peru my brother O’neil and I, 18 years old and 21, respectively, had set out from our home near Vancouver to create a world-wide documentary film we called Project World Citizen.
I was in desperate need of some underwear so we stopped at a night market and I found this picked up a few boxer briefs. As soon as the fabric slid between my hands, I started to pay more attention. This was something different. It was smooth like silk but stretchy. Soft like cotton, but light. I’d like to say that, from the moment I picked up those boxers in a Peruvian night market I decided I wanted to make really nice underwear. Of course, it was still a multi-year exploration, following ideas and new opportunities as they arose, and gathering experiences along the way before I truly got started but it eventually led to starting an underwear company called Naked.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Joel Primus: There wouldn’t be a book out if there weren’t a million failures, times I felt like giving up and lessons learned. There are examples just like the 20,000 pair debate where I thought of giving up but in business, it’s easy to get wrapped up in a “the sky is always falling” sort of mindset. And it’s not. Every problem is just one thing and if you block and tackle it you can find your way through it. The hardest thing was when my 80 hours weeks and ego were threatening my mental and physical health and my relationship with my wife. I didn’t want to lose my family over the business and I had to find a way back to balance and self-acceptance and many things. The inner wars are much harder to fight.
As human beings and entrepreneurs, we’re entitled to two things, our attitude and our effort. And it’s one of the gifts of being alive to see what we can do with those. The outcome is not in our control and there isn’t an end game. So for me, the drive to keep going is, in part, a combination of those things. Our path to success and failure is the exact same path or road, one is just longer. And if you focus on the work and your attitude, and doing your best, and not the result one day you’ll wake up and see how incredibly far you’ve driven on that path.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Joel Primus: Literally 10-years later this may still be “too soon” but after I received a 900 unit order from this great store called Holt Renfrew I decided to order 20,000 pairs because I thought we’d blow it out of the water. Now it’s important to note that this was my FIRST order ever so at this point I have zero understanding of planning. I also had no understanding of the Design process or really even how to make underwear. I remember receiving a phone call shortly after the product was shipped from an angry Shareholder who’d bought a pair saying I know why you call it Naked… because it doesn’t stay on. Sure enough, the underwear slid right off guys in the larger sizes. That was a nightmare that nearly ended the business right out the gate. I drove straight across the country in the dead of winter visiting each store, replacing products, and explain how we’d fixed the garment.
I learned two important lessons. One being the importance of extreme product testing at every stage of production and development as well as having good processes and starting smaller test orders as you launch new items into the market.
A company needs to clearly understand why they are doing what they’re doing.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
Joel Primus: A company needs to clearly understand why they are doing what they’re doing. What is their reason for being and why are customers buying their products. That leads to understanding exactly who their customers are. So many of us fall into the trap of trying to please ALL customers but that is a game most never win. Extremely focused on what you’re the best in the world (Jim Collins calls that a hedgehog concept ) and focused, consistent, disciplined execution is the vanilla answer that makes a good company great.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose-driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Joel Primus: I’m not sure I can! I always tell entrepreneurs to ask themselves two questions: why are they personally doing this business and why is the company making what it’s making or why is the brand what it is. Focus on the why. So if your purpose is profit or something else, then I wouldn’t recommend jamming a customer-facing social impact or purpose-driven angle into your business. It’s inauthentic. That said, certain you are going to align a cause to your brand then it needs to align to your why — your reason for being.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Joel Primus: Keep focused on your MVP’s and your audiences. Trying to please everyone and casting too big a net will dilute your conversion.
Create for your audience not for yourself. Use data to inform your products. Find out what colors or features your customers like, or what their pain points are. Apply that data through the filter of your brand to develop and launch products. Don’t guess.
Keep focused on your MVP’s and your audiences. Trying to please everyone and casting too big a net will dilute your conversion.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Joel Primus: I believe trust is formed by first being consistent with your brand and product offerings. Second, it’s achieved through having a clear WHY or purpose and using that WHY as a filter for your customers’ service, your marketing campaigns, and social media. When customers see that your actions are consistent with what promises they’ll trust you.
The other critical item is customer service. Bad customer service can destroy the greatest product and brand WHY.
And all this comes through the people you hire. Are they aligned with your WHY? Do they care about your customers and products?
Your people will be the living and breathing ambassadors of trust you’re trying to build.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Joel Primus: You can follow me at:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!