When starting a business, many entrepreneurs think their first step should be to sink a bunch of money into advertising and marketing to get the word out.

But what if you don’t have much – if any – startup cash? Or you simply realize putting money into marketing doesn’t guarantee a return, especially with an untested product. 

Eric Bandholz, founder of Beardbrand, turned this challenge into an asset. It forced him to grow his brand organically… and created a solid foundation for the thriving business he has today. He talks about how he marketed in the startup days, with no money, and how that philosophy still guides Beardbrand to this day. 

Listen in to discover…

  • The best places to market online – if you don’t have any money
  • How to avoid having a “boring” business
  • When it’s time to get into paid media activities
  • Why you need to be part of your own target market
  • And more

Listen now…

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 beard brand, a bootstrap men’s grooming company based in Texas, Beard Brand 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. Today, we’re going to continue our conversation with Eric Bandholz about how to grow a brand organically. Welcome back, Eric.

Eric Bandholz: Hey, my pleasure. I’m looking forward to this.

Steffen Horst: Last time, we talked a lot about how to set up a company the challenges of hiring people how to find, you know, the best business partners. What I want to focus on today is really, how did you get started to market the company market the products with limited financial availability? So, Eric, as I said, the business is bootstrapped. And usually, money is tied in that situation, what were your approaches in the beginning to market your company and the products?

Marketing a New Company 

Eric Bandholz: Yeah, and those early days, definitely, money was really tight. In fact, just to give a little more insight, you know, me and Lindsay and Jeremy, none of us were pulling any red or pulling any distributions out of the business. So any money that we made, will go right back into the business in terms of, you know, more ads or product inventory, things like that. So those early days, it’s all about staying lean. And for us, I meant like having other sources of income, so that we could invest in beard brand. But when you don’t have any money, you’ve got to figure out ways to, to spread your word, organically, really, I mean, organically is going to be your best solution. So the things that we’re focused on in the early days were Reddit, they were YouTube, they were Tumblr, and they were really kind of like having a good story and getting some PR on various websites.

And we would try to ride that as much as possible. So you try to find the tallest mountain and shout the loudest you can so that you can land on the most amount of years. But really, that strategy is going to be a terrible strategy. If if you have a product and business that has the most boring and bland story. You know, if you’re not doing something new or innovative or different, it’s going to be a really hard way to build a business. One of the things that I picked up recently from a copyright course was actually you need to have what’s called in the old days, they use the term gimmick. And it’s really a way to, to sell your product or service in a way that no one’s ever thought about something before.

So the great example is of this book that’s like how to outsource your life, live profitably, you know, work less and let this great life. Have you heard of that book? Chances are you’ve never heard of this book. But the content and the message that was selling was essentially the exact same as four hour week. And the idea that you could work for four hours and then live this great life that digital nomad life by this book by Tim Ferris, of course, blew up, everyone’s heard of it. And the four hours a week, that was the quote-unquote, gimmick, that was the thing that really kind of, you know, caught people’s attention, and what is it about your business that you can do that has that hook to your business? And I think for us in those early days, our hook was the urban beards, man, you know, no one had ever heard this term before. And it was a way to quickly describe to our target audience who were serving, and what kind of value we provided and how we’re going to bring value to their lives.

Steffen: So when you said, you know, you did activities on Reddit, YouTube, and Tumblr, that sounds to me, like you early on, start to create an engagement with a specific community. In this case, obviously, the guys that like to have beards, and they look for how to take care of them, and keep them healthy, good looking, all those kind of things. That to me sounds like this is more kind of a midterm towards long term marketing approach. Would you agree? And if, if that’s so what did you do to get people in? Right at that moment? So from a short term perspective?

Long Term Marketing Approaches

Eric: Yeah, I mean, really, like, if you can bring value to your audience lives, then if it’s the right kind of value, the return is instantly so on Reddit, I would, I would simply just be posting photographs of myself, and maybe, you know, it’s a community. So they’d ask, like, how long are you growing? Or how do you get your beard like that? It’s like, Okay, well,  I’m using beard oil. And that’s why it’s, it’s shiny, and it looks nice. And you can grab it a beard brand calm and have your beard look like that, too. or creating a YouTube video on like, here’s how you grow your beard, here’s how you deal with the itchy face. Here’s how you deal with, you know, ingrown hairs, here’s how you deal with like a waviness of your beard, here’s how you style it, all this information you provide to your audience, and you show them how to really like fix their issues, they’re going to reward you, they’re going to say, oh, man, I, I like this guy, I trust this guy, he gave me good information.

And then I went and I did it. And it works, you know, and now my beard looks better. And now I feel better, I want to tell my friends about it. And word of mouth is a great way to grow a business in those early days by really serving your customers. So, you know, I was fortunate in the sense that I was, you know, really the target audience, you know, so I could be the person on camera, and I could be the guy taking photos of myself, and I could be the guy interacting with others on Reddit. But let’s say, you know, I was selling abroad business and you know, like, I don’t have boobs, so like, my, my business and you’ve got it, like, you’ve got to think creatively, how can you do that, if you’re trying to push a product that you yourself self or not, the target audience is lot difficult. So not everyone’s going to have a business where you as the founder, or the owner or the customer, so leveraging other people is going to be the way to go. So we also did a little bit of that we would reach out to influencers, send them the products and interact with them and explain to them what our mission was about. And by having a mission and standing for so much more than just like, Oh, we want to make products and make money, then they’re more likely to help you out. So you can reach out to other, you know, when you’re a small business and you’re making, let’s say, like $100 a month or something a couple of hundred dollars a month, then reach out to other small influencers, you know, people who have like 3000 followers or 5000 followers give them free product they talk about and they’re going to be able to generate a couple of sales and, and you kind of like connect with other, like sighs people, you know, it’s like, still to this day, like beard brand can’t reach out to look wrong, you know, like, we just don’t have the budget for LeBron James.

And, you know, in fact, like, I’m sure if LeBron pitched our product, we may not be able to stay in stock, you know, he may sell out of all of our products. So it makes sense for us as a mid-market company to try to reach out to other mid-market influencers and stars kind of like the list celebrities or whatever, who still have influence. And that’s what you’re going to be doing as a bootstrap company is connect with those other influencers, those other publications, those other podcasters, parade somewhere level to you. And then as you grow, you connect with people who are similar sizes as well,

Steffen: When you engage with a community or when you create a community for your brand. And that obviously, is just blood, sweat and tears at the end of the day, it doesn’t really require anyone to put you know, a credit card down and pay a Google or pay a Facebook. The limitation there is just how much time Can you actually put towards doing those activities? Did you look at what the return of those activities is? And how did you measure the success other than just, you know, sales?

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, in those early days, I kind of like to say, like you have time or money. And when you have more time than money, then you’ve got to be doing the time-intensive things, but we have less time. And more money than then obviously you do the things where you can put money into it. You know, for us, there are like you could, for instance, like we’ve created our own online community using the software called discourse, like, it’s 100 bucks a month or something. So you may have like a little bit of outlays to create your community. But in theory, if you can’t afford 100 bucks a month, and you probably shouldn’t be starting a business, you should probably wait until you have a few more resources.

Steffen: Let’s talk about you know, at some point, you start with the organic site like Reddit, YouTube, Tumblr probably took content or, or transcribed content from YouTube videos and created blog posts. When did you start to expand into paid media activities? And then how did you make the decision that now is the right time to increase? Say, for example, on Facebook, or Google or any other platform that you considered?

Paid Advertising

Eric: Yeah. Well, first of all, let me answer your previous question to how did we know this was successful? We did a post-purchase survey that asked how did you first hear about us, and it was about 65% of our customers first heard about us through our YouTube channel. So even though YouTube was driving a very small percentage of direct traffic into sales, it was making up a huge amount of business from that top of final perspective. Now, as we said earlier, whenever we had more resources, we put it into the business. So that meant for us, we try to do paid, I think for us, the first things that we really invested in were Google AdWords, that’s a real bottom of the funnel thing that you should set up and engage, that’s where you’re going to be able to drive the most amount of sales. And then we kind of had like a love-hate relationship with Facebook, as you know, we’d have success in it, and then all of a sudden, that success would be completely eroded.

I don’t know if it’s just by new competitors or something like that, but we were no longer making money on it, and then we cut it or kill it. And then, you know, we would try it again. Because everyone’s everyone in their mom was talking about how they’re making millions of dollars on Facebook. And, you know, I’m over here blow my brains out trying to figure out how to do that. So Facebook was kind of like a love-hate relationship. In the early days. What we also invested a lot of money in early on was PR, and I’m a big believer, especially for an eCommerce business, that you need to have good SEO and PR is more than just like the awareness, you’re bringing in the marketplace through those PR efforts. But it’s also a great SEO play to be able to generate links back to your website. So by putting a lot of energy and effort, and with a PR firm, early on, I feel like we were able to, to kind of carve out a little bit of a niche with our SEO rankings. And that was also a big this to our growth in those early days.

Steffen: Nowadays, what’s the what’s the split between paid media and more organic focused media activities that you guys do? Do you still do more on organic side? Or is it more level paid organic?

Eric: Yeah, man I did a tweet about this man is probably been about six months, but I took a screenshot shot, and Google Analytics of our revenue by channel. And we have like, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pie charts you could ever imagine, because it’s like 20% of our businesses by email. 20% is through direct traffic. 20% is through organic search. 20% is through social media, marketing, and then like 20% is through like other revenue sources. So it’s like a very diverse type of, well, it’s a really diverse funnel and channel that we have that that gives us a lot more stability in our business, perhaps it’s is why we grow a little bit slower than we could be growing. But if something ever happens with, you know, YouTube or Facebook or any of our paid channels, then we still have other channels to fall back on. And kind of maintain a more level business.

Steffen: You know, at some point, your lower funnel is kind of exhausted. And then you have to go went to the middle vital engine to the upper final. How do you identify new solutions? And you mentioned that early on you to influence influencer marketing, which probably was ahead of a lot of people, because of Influencer Marketing. Today is a topic everyone talks about, and everyone wants to do it if they have the money to do it. How do you identify additional channels that that can help you bring new people into the funnel? And therefore bring them to the point of conversion?

Eric: Yeah, man, it’s really hard. You know, like seven years into the business six years into the business, it’s still something we haven’t mastered. And we’re still trying to learn, like, how can we bring in new channels, the reality is, as you get more established in your business starts to level out, you have a little more predictability in your business, then what you need to do is you need to allocate a portion of your, your budget towards new initiatives. So for instance, we just tried this new channel called, it was really like email marketing, but in the sense that we’re able to buy ads on email newsletters that go out like CNN does an email blast, and then they have ads in that newsletter, and then we’re buying a spot in there. So the company that does, it is called, there’s a couple of companies out there, but we went with a company called live in 10. And we just tried this, we’re still in the testing phase. So we’re still seeing if it’s working or not, but you go in you try it, you see if it works, you see if you can modify it and tweak it, get it to perform a little bit better.

And then hopefully, it works. And then you scale it up and you grow it, there’s no there’s an unlimited amount of options for you to market your company, you know, you can do podcast marketing, you can do radio marketing, you can do TV marketing, you can do online video, you can do that Facebook, you can just Snapchat, you can do Twitter, you can do direct mail, you know, like, send out catalogs, you can do guerrilla marketing, you can pay college kids to go out, give samples or flyers about your company, you can do telemarketing, you can do email marketing. I mean, there’s just there’s no shortage of ways to market your company. And what I encourage people to do is think about what are your skill sets? What do you like doing? Are you a more outgoing and engaging person, then maybe it makes sense that you should create your own YouTube channel? Or are you a more data-driven person, if that’s the case, then you should probably look into creating ads on Facebook and Amazon and the various platforms because you can utilize that data to optimize it.

So really dive down into your own passions and find the channels that align with those passions, because then you’re going to have the energy to want to solve those problems, whereas I’m not a data-driven guy. So if I started getting into the data for, for, you know, what this audience is doing, and what the conversion rates are, what the click-through, I want to want to blow our brains out. And that’s not a sustainable way to build the business. But if it’s creating engaging content on YouTube, and I love that stuff, so I could do that all day long. And that’s why I’ve gravitated towards various parts of our business and, and really creating the things that we enjoy creating.

Steffen: So as you mentioned earlier, a lot of things companies can do in order to get people to their website to sell products. But those solutions, do lower funnel, mid-funnel, upper-funnel activities. And I think at the end of the day, they all boil down to one thing, are you able to make money from that media activity, either directly or indirectly, because, you know, an upper-funnel activity might drive people down the funnel that later on, buy the product for paid search? what’s your approach to attribution when it comes to that end to end that, that, you know, the mid-upper funnel activities that you test, you’re able to judge whether they add to the bottom line?

Eric: Honestly, I’m probably not the best guy to answer this question. Because it’s not something that we’ve really done. Well, that being said, like, as a bootstrapped company, scalability, excuse me, sustainability is something that is vital to our business. So subsequently, when we look at paid marketing efforts, it’s crucial to us to really see a positive return on ad spend, and we do it with pretty conservative numbers, like a seven-day click window, on Facebook, or even like just last click model as well. So we try to have like, also, you know, like at least a two x return on ad spend. So those things aren’t driving success, then we usually link back to our organic channels as an investment. Because if you get paid wrong, you can really burn through a lot of capital and not see that funnel fill up and see the results of all those efforts. And, and we’ve blown a lot of money on projects that weren’t successful. And, and luckily, because, you know, we look at it as a test market with a clear end date, that it’s an end up just, you know, driving a stake through the heart of a business. That makes sense.

Steffen: I want to focus on three areas that you mentioned throughout the conversation today. YouTube, influencer marketing and email marketing, you said early on you did you recorded videos and chat them on YouTube, in which you basically talked about topics that people will have beard would find interesting, from 2012, when you started to now, how has YouTube marketing for you changed? What have you done in the beginning that you no longer did? What are the learnings that you know, implement to get better results?

Eric: Yeah, I mean, YouTube’s changing all the time. In fact, we’re in the midst of a pretty big algorithm change that’s, that’s really affected our channel. For those who don’t know, our channel, we’ve grown to over a million subscribers. And I think we have like 1100 videos now. So far, YouTube shifted the strategy from a bunch of content to more relevant content to your subscribers. So because of that, we’re making some pretty dramatic shifts to our channel to see if we’re going to be able to create content that’s more in line with what YouTube is rewarding. So you have to be in the loop, you have to go to conferences, you have to talk to other industry people, and figure out what’s going on, you have to be invested in it, you know, subsequently, we never made like Facebook, organic, or really even Instagram, organic, a primary strategy for us. So I know we’re doing things wrong, quote-unquote, wrong. And those in that same kind of engagement that we get and Facebook, excuse me, that we get on YouTube. So we’ve always put YouTube as our primary organic channel. And subsequently, we’ve invested to stay in the loop with what’s going on so that we can make those adjustments.

Steffen: So then on the influencer side, I mean, as I said earlier, from my perspective, influencer marketing has really laid out over the last two, three years, early on when you did it, I will probably say it was a very niche marketing solution. What is different now than it was back six, seven years ago? And how can companies take advantage of influencer marketing even with a limited amount of budget?

Eric: Yeah, I mean, in my opinion, you know, influencer, marketing always exists, probably one of them, the most well-known influencers is Michael Jordan, right. I mean, that’s essentially what he was. What’s happened is with social media, you’re able to get this microphone. So it’s no longer just limited to LeBron James and Michael Jordan’s of the world, but you can get this really niche influencers who have influence within their, their own social sphere, or social world, I guess, their little severe, as I would say, like six years ago, like Instagram, was this hot new thing where everyone was joining kind of Facebook was the same. So there’s a lot of it was almost like a gold rush of seeing who is going to be the ones who got established and who are going to be the big players.

And, you know, if you timed it, you’re really going to be able to grow quickly. And I think it to a certain degree, there’s still an opportunity for that, but you really have to be doing remarkable things to get noticed, on Instagram and, and on YouTube and on Facebook. So it’s kind of getting a little more mature in the marketplace. And there are a little more established players as a business here, or he’s going to have opportunities and like new issues and emerging issues that, like the larger players haven’t quite seen the opportunities in. And those same, niches probably aren’t going to have like the same requirements for paying for influencers. So you might be able to get away with just simply giving out products and exchange for a shout out or exchange for user-generated content. And then you’re able to use that user-generated content to give social proof to, to your audience on whether or not the products any good. So we’ve always erred towards not wanting to lean on other people going back to our core values of freedom. So subsequently, we invested in becoming our own influencers. And we made it a big deal to build our own channel so that we could have that influence on our audience.

So when I think of influencer marketing, I think of it as like, almost like an incestuous type of influencer marketing, that gives us a lot of control and, and power, but at the same time, it gives you a lot of limitations and that you may not be able to scale it as quickly, or you may not be able to kind of grow beyond that super niche that that is your followers, which as we’ve grown into, like hair care products, and, and skincare products becomes a little more of a challenge for us, because so many of our customers nose for beard care and the beard space that, you know, they may not be willing or excited about following us for hair care and skincare stuff.

Steffen: But on the other hand, I guess you know, they’re used to your brand, they know your brand, they know your brand values they trust you shouldn’t it be easier to expand your product line out of the, you know, beer category into a more wider male grooming category?

Eric: Yeah, I mean, I think so. That’s what we think so and we’ve got a lot of products that are successful, but you know, our beard care products are still our, our best selling products. So they’re kind of like our core products. And then like our styling products for your hair and your beard, kind of falling after that. And then like hair care products. So I think that’s the case with every business, you’re going to have like your core winners, and then you’re going to have those that have potential and maybe you haven’t seen yet or those that maybe aren’t the exact perfect fit for your audience, and you need a brand new audience members.

Steffen: So one area of marketing, I believe, for eCommerce businesses that is really important is email marketing, whether you want to re-engage with people that have been cards, or whether you want to, you know, send a confirmation about a product or send out, you want to get people to rebuy products, or to buy more product from you. You mentioned earlier, I think that email marketing, more the other marketing activities are on about 20%. On the business. Are there any specific things you do from an email marketing perspective to reengage with people to get people to buy in the first place?

Eric: Oh, yeah, man, we’re big believers in an email. And we’ve set up a ton of campaigns for our customers. If you go to our website, right now, you’ll notice that we have like a quiz on the homepage. And part of that quiz is that we’re trying to, to grab email addresses so that we can get people into our flow. So we have a pre-purchase flow, which is essentially like a boot camp. And we give them a rundown on how to groom your beard, how to groom your hair, how to groom your body take care of your body. And it’s a really robust, like 10 email flow, that brings a lot of value to our customer’s lives. And then, in addition to that, we’ll do kind of like news like, you know, email blast to our entire audience. And then we’ll also do a lot of segmentation. So if they’ve ordered from us like two or three times, then they’ll be able to get access to our private community for free, which is a normally $90 value. So we have flowed like that. 

And finally, we have flows that based on the product they ordered. We know the reorder rates for the products, you know, so let’s say a beard oil is going to last on average three months, then what we’ll do is we’ll send out an email, you know, like 10 days shy of three months and tell them, hey, you’re probably getting low on your beard oil, why don’t you go ahead and place that order, so you’re going out of it. And then we also know, like, from a statistical standpoint, where, you know, most people will use it by you know, some people will go through it in three months, some people will go through it in six months, let’s say. So by that six month wine, if they have a reorder, we send out another message as like, Hey, you have a place to reorder, we have 100% Happiness Guarantee something didn’t go right. We want to fix it, and make sure that that you’re coming back so we can really solve all the problems that they may have had with our products, and make sure that they’re they’re totally happy with their experience up here.

Steffen: In the first episode, we recorded you talked about the importance of obviously, customer satisfaction, you just mentioned, part of your email sequences is engaging with people that bought before and making sure that they really liked the product that what they got was what they were looking for. Have those activities led to a higher average rebuy rate on your head?

Eric: Yeah, I mean, from from the research that I’ve seen, of our return rate versus other people in the industry, and the beauty industry or grooming industry, we have a higher than average reorder rate, whether or not that’s simply from our email marketing efforts, or if it’s because we’ve got a better product than everyone else, or because of like our customer service is great, I would imagine is probably a little bit of all three of them. I think the biggest issue that a lot of entrepreneurs out there, especially a lot of early entrepreneurs have out there is being afraid of really sending too many emails to your customers.

And the way I like to look at it is like think of for all the people listening right now, think of the thing that you love most in life, let’s say it’s the TV show Game of Thrones, let’s say you love Game of Thrones. Now, it’d be really awesome. If Game of Thrones was on every single week of the year, you would absolutely watch every single episode. If you’re a total fan. Now assume that your customers are total fans of you, they want to receive as much content from you as possible. So it’s almost your responsibility and your duty to produce content for them. That is engaging, it gets them excited and brings value to their lives. So don’t be afraid to send emails every day or every few days, to engage with them, give them the news, give them updates and keep them in the loop.

Steffen: The last question I have for you, Eric is, what’s your view on building a market team in house versus using external capabilities?

Eric: Yeah, in their early days, we, again, we were bootstrap, we’re pretty lean. So we decided what is the thing that we can do better than everyone else, whatever that was, we would do it in house. And then anything that we want it to be the best in the market at, we would work with outside partners. So subsequently, we’ve outsourced our fulfilment centre, without source, you know, our PR efforts, we outsource our Facebook, ad management, we outsource our Google lead management. But like our brand or creative, we keep that in house or customer service. We keep that in house, you know, our operations, we keep that on house. So it’s really like what are the things that you can do best? Keep it in the house? And what are things that other people can do better than you work with them outside?

Steffen: That’s a great point. Eric, thank you for joining me on the performance of our podcast and sharing your knowledge about how to grow business organically. And 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 goes ahead and just treat yourself to some products have beard brand pie something and you’ll see what the experience is 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 on the only Eric Bandholz around. So if you just Google me 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: Like thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the performances about the 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 supporting digital you can visit us at symphonic digital.com or follow us on Twitter at symphonic HQ.