Eric Bandholz, founder and creative director of Beardbrand, doesn’t just sell men’s grooming products. He gives his customers confidence, a feeling of well-being, and a sense of community.
That’s what every brand should do. Unfortunately too many are just customers and transactions. We talk about how Eric and his partners have built an engaged community of followers using social media and other channels.
This tactic has enabled Eric and his partners to see steady growth, without outside investment. It’s a true bootstrapped ecommerce business.
Tune in to find out…
- Overcoming the biggest hurdles of a bootstrapped business
- The “Top Grading” process for hiring the best candidates
- How to “talk” to your prospects… so they don’t feel like they’re being sold
- Creating a company culture based on your core values – and getting buy in from employees
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success Podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how to build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst.
Today, we’re going to talk about growing a business organically. here to speak with me about the topic is Eric Bandholz, who is the founder and creative director of bootstrap men’s grooming company based in Texas. Beardbrand has been able to grow organically for its massive community of followers on YouTube, Instagram and their blog. The growth comes from a brand focused approach to business with everything tying back to the mission to make men look and feel awesome. Eric, great to have you on the show.
Eric Bandholz: Thanks man, the pleasures all mine. Looking forward to our chat.
Steffen Horst: Eric, you know, I already gave a little intro to your background, but tell the listeners more about you. How did you end up founding the brand? And what did you do before that?
Eric: Yeah, so, before my life as the founder of beardbrand, I was pretty much like a journeyman sales guy. So for about 10 years out of college, I worked in a various sales role, kind of culminating as a financial advisor at a big bank. And it was that job that they really wanted you to look a certain way, dress a certain way, act a certain way, where I just felt like I was kind of living this lie. I was like putting on this mask every single day when I went to work. So I quit working there. And I started grown up my beard actually tried to start up like this graphic design business. And this is 2011. And at the time, not a lot of people in the professional environment were wearing facial hair. So they were calling me Grizzly Adams or ZZ Top or Duck Dynasty. And these are all cool dudes, but they’re just not me like, I’m like an entrepreneur. I’m a designer like I don’t really identify with, with those other types of bearded stereotypes.
So I ended up like attending this event where I met other bearded guys and then other entrepreneurs, businessmen, lawyers, you know, doctors, entrepreneurs, even like a minister who are rocking facial hair. And I realized there’s this whole community of people that didn’t fit the traditional stereotype of what a bearded guy was. And I wanted to unite this community and I wanted to give them the tools that they needed to feel confident about rocking a beard, and environments that traditionally weren’t really favourable to a beard. So that’s where I got the idea for beard brand, as a company to kind of unite the community. And we started calling people in the community urban beardsman.
So there’s this kind of rather than your outdoorsman, or your musician or your, you know, kind of your vagabond, we now have the urban beards fan. And so it started with a Tumblr page and a YouTube channel and really just kind of talking about my passions. And eventually I was able to bring on my business partners, Lindsay and Jeremy and turn a passion project into a business and we’ve just been bootstrapped, which to me means no outside money, and it means no debt. So we’re debt-free. Investor free and we’ve just been growing through our profits and just kind of grinding and working hard and trying to improve every day.
Steffen: That’s great. When I read up on beard brand in preparation for this podcast, I read that you guys went onto Shark Tank. How did that how does that help the business getting such publicity from the show?
Shark Tank Publicity
Eric: Yeah, Shark Tank was a great experience. I was back in 2014, season six for Shark Tank for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode yet. At the time we were really doing well growing organically and we had a really good story to tell. As one of the first beard care companies I in the market really we were the company that created an entirely new industry. We pitched our company to the show and kind of went through all that paperwork and we’re fortunate enough to get selected. No spoilers, but we gave our pitch or I should say here are the spoilers I mean, you’re five years later, so you haven’t seen it by now. But anyway, spoilers: No one made an offer.
But we were able to tell her story on national TV, which was really great for the brand and not only like tell the story, we also prevented our competitors from getting on the show by being that company That was on the show. So the day of the show was amazing. I was watching our Google Analytics and we had like 7000 simultaneous visitors to our website when our spot was airing. And it was just like, every second would go up by like 200 or 500 people and it was just really serene, really surreal to be able to see that, in fact, I think I did a screen recording put it up on my, my personal YouTube channel, that that did help to increase sales for a longer period of time. Usually, you know, when you run ads, TV ads, you always see spikes, not that this is a TV ad, but just as a comparison.
So you get a big exposure on national television. A lot of people come into the side. I assume you got a good amount of sales out of that but were those ultra repeat customers that came from that activity? Yeah, I mean, we’ve continued to see growth since being on Shark Tank. So it’s really good exposure. I think, you know, if you if you’re a regular viewer of the show you kind of have this impression that if you appear on Shark Tank, then all of a sudden, you know, you’ve made it and you never have to work again and you’ve got this golden ticket to success. It’s not entirely true, you know, it is a nice boost. And it gives you a lot of publicity. But it’s not, you know, this, this golden ticket to business, you still have to work hard at business, you still have to serve your customers, you still have to make great products, you still have to have profitability in your business. And you you’ll see, like, you know, the shows why like, I don’t even know how many seasons in there they are at the time, but there’s plenty of companies that have been on the show that are now out of business. So it’s a great thing to have, but it’s not something that that automatically makes your business great.
Steffen: So going back to the beginning of beard brand, you obviously said that you founded a company from kind of a passion project because you identified that there are a lot of people out there that are not kind of the hardcore rock. Definitely have beards. But it’s like the guy next to you, so to speak. What were the hurdles at the beginning that you guys had to overcome, especially being a bootstrap business?
Eric: Yeah, I mean, I think every other entrepreneur can relate but like, every day, you know, new problems are coming into your business. In fact, I like to say, like, you know, like businesses is just simply a series of problems that you’re trying to solve. And then the business will grow or, or go out of business or be sold at the point where I can no longer solve the problems it’s facing. For me in those early days, you know, like, we didn’t have millions of dollars in the bank, so trying to figure out ways to grow. without all, that money was pretty challenging. So we really leaned heavily on organic sources to get the word out. And then also like, this was my first business like I’ve never built a successful business before. Like, I didn’t know how to hire people, I didn’t know how to build, you know, SOPs or standard operating procedures, I didn’t know how, you know, to vet vendors and make sure that they’re right to, to do the things that we asked to them. So there were just I mean, every single day was a learning lesson on how to build a successful business. But, you know, we’re just so passionate about the product and our customers, and the relationships that I have with my business partners. And of course, the team that we work with that it’s fun, you know, it’s fun to solve these problems and fun to wake up and, and try to do something different.
Steffen: You mentioned earlier in just a second ago to that you have two business partners, do they complement the knowledge the background that you have? And if so, what areas do they focus on? And what do you focus on? Is that the mix that you use to adjust for other people thinking about founding company or that we already have fun to company and I looking for individuals to strengthen They’re phoning team.
Eric: Yeah, if I personally would have absolutely zero success at all in my life, if it weren’t for my two business partners, I love having my business partners. Whenever I’m kind of like in a dark space and you know, like think the world’s crashing in, they’re usually a better place and they can kind of help pull me out and kind of vice versa if they’re struggling, and I can kind of help give them a positive outlook on life. And we’ve got a really good situation in the sense that two of the partners me and Lindsey were in the day-to-day. And then we have a third business partner who’s outside of the business. So he’s kind of quote-unquote, sits on our board of directors and will join us in our quarterly owner’s meeting. But he’s not kind of really wrapped into the details of the business which really gives us a really nice outside perspective as to what’s going on. And maybe solve some issues that we can’t see Lindsay and I can’t see, because we’re too far into the weeds.
Now I know a lot of people have issues with business partners, and I think probably stems from the fact that they’re looking for business partners who will, quote-unquote, complement their skill set, like you get the sales guy and then you get the engineer or you get the ops person you get the salesperson, Lindsey, Jeremy and I were essentially three of the exact same people were. And I think that’s what’s made our relationship successful in the sense that we have the same philosophies in life, which means we have the same core values for the business, which means we’re looking to solve problems in a similar way. So we don’t have a lot of conflict amongst ourselves. And then, you know, operationally or kind of, at a detail level, I handle more of the marketing side of things. And Lindsey handles more of the operational side of things. But we’re really, you know, really pretty similar people.
Steffen: Did that, in the beginning, led to that certain areas of a business, you guys had to start learning or had a very steep learning curve in order to catch up on things you mentioned a second ago, you didn’t really know how to vet vendors, for example?
Eric: Yeah, I mean, I think in our business, the nice thing about eCommerce and a product-based business is that you really don’t need too much technical knowledge or background experience is something that you can really learn on the fly by listening to like podcasts like this and talking to other successful entrepreneurs and seeing what other companies are doing publicly. You can just really kind of seek out and implement that into your business. So all it takes is a really strong desire to learn and being okay with not knowing everything now. I kind of have that background experience on web design on SEO on content marketing. So it was only natural that I went in there. And then Lindsay, you know, she’s, she’s a successful business owner before beard brand. And I think she’s probably like the best negotiator I’ve ever met in my entire life. And she also is more of like a salesperson. And what she’s really learned over the years is how to handle the operational aspect and, and implement, you know, best practices for our company. On the operational side of things, you know, her, she’s got the operations just rolling on all are running on all eight cylinders, and nothing’s ever out of stock and products are always there. And I’m probably the weak link here when it comes to the stuff going on a beard brand.
Steffen: You mentioned that you know your bootstrap business. You didn’t really have millions of dollars in the bank account. And that from the first day onwards, you had to kind of grow organically. But in order to grow organically successfully, you know, you gotta build a brand and you need to tell a story to set yourself up or the business up for success. How did you, Lindsay and you approach that? How did you build the brand and craft a story that resonated with your target audience?
Eric: Yeah, I mean, I think the thing that’s different about us at beard brand is going back to what I said earlier, like beard brand to certain degrees and extension of myself. It’s a passion project. It’s something that I love doing so when I talk about something when I express myself it’s because I love it. And I think a lot of people really resonated with my passion for four mins grim in my passion for self-investment, and they just kind of gravitated to it. We also love our customers like, personally, I’m not much of a consumer, I don’t like to buy a lot of things. But when I do buy things, I want it to be right. And I want the experience to be right. I want people to email me back quickly, I want, you know, the product to be to perform excellently.
And that’s the way we’re building beard brand. Like we have, in my opinion, the best products on the marketplace to do what they do, in my opinion, we have the best customer service in the marketplace, like even better than, you know, established brands. We offer an experience that you’re not going to get from not just vendors in our space, but vendors across the web, like our unboxing experience and the little touches of details that we put into every order. That’s really hard to do, but it’s something we really care about. And we really want our customers to have a great experience because our goal is not to grow the company super fast. And then to sell it off to, you know, Procter and Gamble or whatever our goal is to serve our customers and to make the world better and to improve our lives of our customers.
So when that’s our focus, we’re able to do things that other companies want to do, because they’re not, quote-unquote, profitable. And subsequently, you end up with a really unique experience that our customers aren’t getting anywhere else and keep them coming back and buying more.
Steffen: So you mentioned a small things that kind of make a difference from a customer service perspective, where those things that you implemented, and that you that you kind of used from the get go or are those things that that you basically developed over time your sort of response on certain things and said, You know what, let’s let’s go another step, or I’ve seen this with another brand. Why don’t we do that? Because that seems to work really well. How did you how did you come up with those small things that from your perspective and make the difference?
Eric: Yeah, big thing that is usually at the back of my head is what can we do that Amazon can’t do? So in the early days, when you’re a company of one person, or you know, in our case, like two people, three people, there’s, you know, we’re never going to be able to send out the same day to across the world and get there, you know, like the same day, like, that’s not going to be a value add that we’re going to be successful at. But what can we do, you know, like, Amazon, you know, Jeff Bezos isn’t going to be able to interact with with all this customers, whereas us, we can start to develop those relationships with our customers, because we’re a small company. So we really put ourselves out there and we told her story, and I was handling customer service.
You know, I was interacting with people on Twitter, I was interacting with our fans on YouTube. And that’s where you start to build a relationship where it’s like, these guys weren’t buying From some online brand, who was who were utilizing whatever hot marketing efforts there are, they’re buying from their friend. And they are my friends, like a lot of the people who I’ve met through this company I still stay in touch with, and I follow them on Instagram, and I’ve watched them grow and become better men and, you know, grow their families. And it’s just been an amazing experience. And then, of course, obviously, that’s not scalable as our company has grown. I can’t, I can’t talk to every single customer or else I want to be able to do anything else. I want to be able to eat lunch, you know? So you try to figure out what are the things that we can offer?
That, again, isn’t something that Amazon’s going to do. So one thing that I did recently is I wrote this little booklet called the book of reminders and this nine little reminders that I give myself on a regular basis to when I’m facing adversity, and we slide these in every single order now. These books are cheap to print. They’re expensive, it costs a lot of money. But it is something that, you know, because we believe in and keep on growing, because we believe that, that men can grow and become better versions of themselves and, and by them becoming better versions of themselves, the world’s going to become a better place as they affect the community. It makes sense. And when a customer receives this booklet, and it makes an impact on their lives, they’re going to, they’re going to tell their friends about it. They’re running, you know, by again, they’re going to to ultimately, hopefully, in my, in my mind, become better people, which is what I’m looking for.
Steffen: A second ago, you said that you can’t do everything which you know, in a growing company, once you want to start to see your revenue increase and you need new people. You got to focus on the area that you can really make the biggest impact as a business owner. But then at that moment, it becomes really important obviously to hire the right people. In order to hire the right people the first time around, because if you don’t get it right, it will just slow things down or will create problems in your entire process. What was your approach to hiring people in the early stages hasn’t changed since then? And what were the learnings
Eric: Oh god, man, I could probably do a whole list on hiring. We what you said is absolutely true. Aware with our early days hiring process, it was trash. It was like we had all these problems. And then we found someone whose resume we kind of liked. We brought them in, they could, they could steam up a mirror. You know, if we put a mirror in front of their mouth, it would fog up so we knew they’re, they’re confident, and we brought them in, and we also knew they weren’t great fits for their role and We kept them for a long period of time. So I think our whole hiring process and mentoring process and culture was terrible. I think it’s set our business back a good 18 months of growth, it became like, it was something that I just wish I could just hire, and it would be the right person. They do all the work. But that’s the furthest thing from the truth to have a successful team.
First of all, you need to have a good hiring process. And for us, that was a process called top grading, which essentially is you tell candidates and every step of the process that you’re going to be doing reference checks. And then at the end of the process, you do reference checks. And this kind of weeds out the B and C players who aren’t going to have positive reference checks, and kind of leaves you with the BNA players. And then from there, you kind of get a feel for if it’s a culture fit or they have the skill sets that you need. So we did that and then in addition to that, We took a much slower onboarding process. So now they have like two weeks where they shadow every person within the company to get a better feel for the company. And then we have like a six-month evaluation, or let’s say a three-month evaluation followed by another three months evaluation. So a total of 180 days where they’re kind of on a probationary period where they get settled, and they don’t have to be perfect, but, but we, as I see that growth and that opportunity, and ever since we implemented that we’ve really been able to find a lot better fit a lot better team members who fit our culture, and can can be successful in our culture as well.
Steffen: I would probably guess that someone would say, Wow, hundred 80 days, that’s a long time to get someone up to speed and performing. But on the other end, I’ll probably say that you save yourself some money, right? Because if you hire people and you throw them into the pond immediately and then they did they start working with you screwed things up, and you have to let them go again, you have to go out again and hire the next person and you apply the same approach, it will take you quite a few people to find the right one, right? So in that picture 180 days doesn’t necessarily or isn’t necessarily a long period of time, and actually just ensures that once the person really can hit the ground running, they know what to do, they can deliver a day they follow the process that you guys have put in place, would you would you agree with that?
Eric: Yeah, and I should be clear that if someone is not a culture fit to our organization, like our core values, our freedom, hunger and trust, and if they’re not falling in line with those core values, we’re not going to wait 180 days to let them go. We will part ways immediately. So the first hundred and 80 days are really to make sure that they are a culture fit. And it gives them that buffer of like if they’re not performing and their job like that. culture fit. But you know, maybe they have areas of improvement where, you know, they don’t know our brand voice or, you know, they’re still kind of learning our operational things like that’s, that’s where the opportunities for them to grow and kind of be in that professional period. And then it’s like, once they’re out of that, that, you know, really they should be performing as a full-time regular employee after 180 days. So it’s just kind of a little more hands-on process to give them more feedback quickly so that they can make modifications to what they’re doing and areas that they need to focus on so that they can improve quicker during this first 90 days and 180 days.
Steffen: So you said culture a few times in your response just now. How do you establish a culture or how did you establish the culture?
Eric: Yeah, this goes back to what I talked about earlier how Lindsay and Jeremy and I are we all are aligned on our, our philosophies in life, you know like we believe people are good. You know, we believe that we should live lives that are of our own volition rather than the influence of others. So, and we’re really driven, we want to do something remarkable. We don’t, we don’t feel like we’re just trying to sit back and, you know, sit on the beach. So that’s where our core values came from, you know, trust, we believe that people are good. Hunger, you know, we’re driven, we want to do something amazing. And then freedom, you know, we, we want to live the lifestyle we want to and we also want our team to live the lives that they want to and we want everyone who chooses to work for beard brand, no actually choose like they voluntarily walk through the doors because they love what they’re working on.
So because our philosophies are aligned, we’re able to essentially translate the owner’s core values. into the company’s core values, and utilize those as, as really an extension of ourselves. And, and I think, in business, especially in larger business that, you know, core values are really window dressing, you know, no one sticks by them. They’re just kind of these words that are picked up or buzzwords or, you know, like Amazon, they got like 14 of them and no one’s going to remember all of them. Whereas us, you can come in and ask any team member of your brand, what our core values are, what our mission is, and they’re going to tell you, and they’re not going to pause or hesitate. Because it’s just so ingrained in our culture.
Steffen: I think that’s some really great, interesting information you just shared with us. But I think it’s a great place to finish today’s episode. If people want to find out more about you and your brand, how can they find out about it?
Eric: Yeah, I mean, really the best thing that any all doing, guy or girl is go ahead and just treat yourself to some products of beard brand, pie something and you’ll see what experiences like you’ll not only will you get amazing products for yourself, but you’ll also see like how we send out orders. You’ll see how our email flows are and you’ll be able to learn a lot from that process. Of course at beardbrand.com and then I’m the only Eric Bandholz around. So if you just Google me, I’m on Twitter, I’m an Instagram hit me up on Twitter, I’d be happy to help answer any questions that you have or provide expertise. I love talking business. So don’t be afraid to just tweet at me.
Steffen: Thanks everyone for listening. If you’d like to performance into that podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favourite podcast application. If you want to find out more about something digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. When we come back in our next episode, what I really want to talk about is the marketing side of the business. As you mentioned earlier, you’re really the guy that is responsible for marketing the company marketing the product, so I’m really Looking forward to talking about how did you start marketing and company marketing the products with a bootstrap business which basically means you have a limited amount of cash available to do exactly that. So thank you for joining me on the performance of our podcast today and sharing your knowledge about how to grow a business organically. And I look forward to talking to you again tomorrow.
Eric: Yes, the pleasures all mine and I’m looking at continuing this conversation.