Meet Eric Bandholz, founder of Beardbrand. Beardbrand works to bring high-quality products to beardsmen. And, in case you could not tell from my podcast cover art, I am not a beardsman. So how did Eric and his company appear on my radar? I discovered Beardbrand because they were a featured success story during a series of commercials during the most recent World Series. Aside from the exposure they received from the World Series commercials, Eric was also on Shark Tank, where he did not get an offer from the sharks, but he did get a flattering beard rub from one of the Sharks.
Meet Eric Bandholz, founder of Beardbrand. Beardbrand works to bring high-quality products to beardsmen. And, in case you could not tell from my podcast cover art, I am not a beardsman. So how did Eric and his company appear on my radar? I discovered Beardbrand because they were a featured success story during a series of commercials during the most recent World Series. Aside from the exposure they received from the World Series commercials, Eric was also on Shark Tank, where he did not get an offer from the sharks, but he did get a flattering beard rub from one of them.
When I approached Beardbrand to feature Eric, I wasn't sure what to expect. I soon discovered Beardbrand was a business grounded on its principles, and crystal clear about who they are as entrepreneurs and what they want to be as a brand. Eric graciously accepted, and well, here we are!
My key takeaway from my time with Eric was the power of clarity. Whether it is clarity of who you are as an entrepreneur, as a person, or as an organization, you need to be crystal clear on that truth. As you gain clarity, you can then navigate the road ahead in a manner that is in full alignment of your vision and purpose. Take the time to find your clarity.
Eric's startup story is one that I am sure will broaden your perspective of what a successful business is or could be. Like all founders featured on this podcast, we need to understand how Eric's story began. This is Eric Bandholdz's startup story.
“Life isn’t easy and we all have our own adversity. Yet, part of the journey is to recognize that you are here to make a specific mark on this world and in the lives of those around you.” – Eric Bandholz – Beardbrand
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Special Guest: Eric Bandholz.
The Startup Story - Eric Bandholz
Eric Bandholz: What's going on, Internet? Eric Bandholdz here, founder of Beardbrand, and this is MY startup story.
Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: Welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. Just last week, I announced that we were pushing to move our Startup Story Live event to being an online event, and as is typical for startups we had to make the transition happen super fast. After all, coronavirus can't stop us. With that said, now that we're online and not restricted by the limitations of a venue, traffic issues, or any time permitting issues, let's roll baby! Startup Story Live is a full day conference with an expanded lineup of founders that are going to get incredibly tactical to help you move your business forward. The focus for Startup Story Live is to help you stabilize your business, expand how you view your business, and to even help you grow your business so that if some catastrophic event like coronavirus ever happens again your business will be able to endure it.
This coronavirus event shook businesses from all segments and all industries, and in some cases forced businesses to lay people off and shut their doors. Every single entrepreneur needs to take an entirely new look at how we monetize and how we ensure an economic shutdown doesn't destroy us the next time it happens. Our founder lineup is handpicked with that purpose in mind, and it's absolutely free. You can register today at startupstorylive.com. Did you hear that? A full day conference that will deliver tools and tactics to help stabilize and grow your business is totally free. Do not miss out on this opportunity. Visit startupstorylive.com today and register. All right. Now, let's jump into this week's episode.
Our guest this week is Eric Bandholz, founder of Beardbrand. In case you could not tell from my podcast cover art or any other images of me online, I am not a beardsman. I couldn't grow a beard if I tried. In fact, if I did it would be so spotty that you would think I look like a mangy dog. That said, I discovered Beardbrand because they were a featured success story during a series of commercials during the most recent World Series. Can you imagine being given a World Series commercial series and not have to pay for it at all? That is the power of partnerships. They were a success story for Ship Station during the World Series. Aside from the exposure they received during the World Series commercials, Eric was also on Shark Tank where he did not receive an offer from the sharks, but he did get a flattering beard rub from one of them, but I'll let you go back and watch that episode.
When I approached Beardbrand to feature Eric as our featured founder for an episode, I thought for sure this was a massive enterprise shipping tens of millions of dollars and on a growth path that required some serious venture backing. Instead, what I discovered was a business grounded on its principles and crystal clear about who they are as entrepreneurs and what they want to be as a company and brand.
Eric Bandholz: In April of 2017 my business partners, we all went down to Amsterdam and kind of had this coming to Jesus moment. We were stressed out the gills, you know like things weren't working. The company wasn't growing. But at that time, the company had already gotten to a pretty good stage. I don't remember the exacts, but we'll say it was about $3 million in revenue, and we kind of said to ourselves, we said, "Look, if the company never grows another dollar, a $3 million company is a really nice company." It can give you a really nice way of life. It can pay for food on the table and a roof over your head, and allow you to travel the world and kind of have freedom. So it was at that point we realized let's enjoy the ride, let's enjoy the journey, let's no longer try to grow at all cost and instead focus on the bottom line and really try to have a healthy business that can pay us and then we don't have to feel so stressed out.
James McKinney: Eric's startup story is one that I am convinced will broaden your perspective of what a successful business is. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to understand exactly how the story starts.
Eric Bandholz: Yeah. So for me, yes I did come from a family of entrepreneurs. My grandparents owned a small little tavern up in Philadelphia so I remember as a kid going up to Philadelphia during Christmas time. They had closed down the bar and we'd have Christmas there with the presents and all my cousins. And then I just remember having the refrigerator full of Dr. Peppers and I felt like they were all mine because they were my grandparents. Then they had a little bit of a grill where you could make some cheesesteak hoagies and of course the bar where you could do stuff. So a lot of good memories in that environment.
Then also my dad, he went out kind of on his own as an executive recruiter. So he had, it was more of like trading time for money but he was definitely on his own and kind of showed me that. And that was more in his later life. In his earlier years when I was still growing up, up until about high school for me, he was a general manger at a textile or non-woven type of company.
James McKinney: So growing up, what did you think you wanted to do? Let's not get beyond high school but when you think through your high school years, what did you think you wanted to do?
Eric Bandholz: Yeah, you know I think when you're younger it's always challenging what you want to do because you have a lot of people telling you what you should do and you really don't have a full understanding of all the options out there. I remember when I was a wee little kid I wanted to be like a truck driver or race car driver. I think actually a little bit of that was I don't know if I was subliminally just drawn to that freedom, being on the road, being y our own boss, not really being tied to anything. And then for I would say in high school for very brief period of time I wanted to be an architect, tying that engineering and that art together. And then by the time I got into college, it was pretty clear that I wanted to be in business, and more specifically I wanted to be in sales. I'm one of the few guys who went to college with the intent of becoming a sales person, and kind of all my majors were focused on how I could be a salesperson, which I think is pretty silly that no colleges actually have degrees in sales-
James McKinney: Yeah, no kidding.
Eric Bandholz: … and it's like one of the most, the largest industry out there and there's just no formal education for it. So I ended up going to school for marketing and management was my major, and then a minor in retail which subsequently ended up being exactly what I'm doing now.
James McKinney: Yeah, no kidding. When you were coming out of college, obviously marketing and advertising, having a passion for sales, what did you think you wanted to do and what was your first step out of college? And what year was that by the way?
Eric Bandholz: Yeah, so I graduated college 2003 and it was University of South Caroline. Then, I actually wanted to start my freedom journey so I wanted to kind of leave the next, so I left South Carolina and moved out to Austin, Texas, and ended up getting a job at Dell computer in sales, inbound phone sales was my first job. I was out looking for sales jobs. So when I worked at Dell, I was actually working for a temp company that placed me in there. I was able to get that job in a couple weeks which was enough for me to pack my bags and get an apartment, kind of start my adult life as they like to call it nowadays, adulting.
James McKinney: So in that environment, huge company Dell, inbound sales. You're getting to wet your palate on the sales side because you had a passion for that. Did you think at that point in time that you had made it? It's 2003, you're coming out of the tech bubble, we're five years away from the worst recession ever, so we're kind of in a safe spot. Thinks are recovering well, it's looking really nice. I suspect in the computer sales side, on the enterprise side, it was probably a pretty healthy paying job for you. Did you think that was long-term?
Eric Bandholz: No, not at all. A little more history. 2003 I think was still kind of like a recession. Finding a job was pretty challenging. I had a few other interviews. I had an interview with PPG which is a Pittsburgh paint company or whatever they're called up in Pittsburg. I didn't that job. I was pretty bummed about this, but like I said the job at Dell was a temp job so if you sucked at the job you make $10 an hour and if you're good at it you'd make $14 an hour. No one was good enough to get the $14 and if you were bad enough to get the $10 you got fired. So I was making about $13 an hour there, but it was a temp job for me so I always kind of viewed it as a temp job.
James McKinney: If I scroll through your LinkedIn profile, it looks like you move on from Dell and I forget it's immediately into financial advisement. What was the journey into that?
Eric Bandholz: Yeah. So I was a journeyman. I like to describe myself as a journeyman sales guy for a while. I only worked at Dell for a couple months and I had these like progressions with my career. So the first one was handling inbound sales, so everything is coming in. It's really just like being able to convert people as they come on the phone to lead generation for Sysco systems, the router company. Then that was an outbound so you kind of progress your skills where you're doing cold calling and reaching out to people, a little more prospecting, a little lead generation.
Then I moved back to the east coast to Charlotte, North Carolina and I ended up getting a job as an outside sales person. So that's when I really started to develop a lot of skills around interacting with people in person. I was trained on the sandwich sales method, so you learn about win-win situations, overcoming objections and being okay with no. in addition to that, learn a lot about the creative side of the world so working at a commercial printing company. I learned how to put ink on paper and design, Photoshop, things like that. And then, I'm kind of a vagabond as well.
Then we moved to Spokane. So my wife got a job out in Spokane. I had been laid off during the 2008 recession there and I kind of tried to start up these side businesses as we moved out there. l like I tried to go into business with my dad as an executive headhunter. That didn't work. Hiring people in 2008 was a terrible idea. It's just if you're thinking about becoming a headhunter now, I probably would advise against it as well. I say this as the whole COVID thing is going on right now so we're probably in a little recession. And then I tried an e-commerce business on the side.
Ultimately, after like six months or nine months or whatever, I was kind of this trophy husband. My wife was the breadwinner, she's making all the money, she's going to work, I'm buying the groceries and cleaning the house, and trying to get these projects off the ground. Nothing is really sticking and I gave up on being an entrepreneur at that point and went back to working for the man, and that's when I got back into the financial world.
James McKinney: So in the financial world, a very entrepreneurial industry to be in. You are, in a lot of cases depending on who you're with, you are your own boss. You have an extensive sales history which plays well into what it is you're trying to build, but again a tough season. This was in 2009 that you're venturing into this. That's a tough chapter to be doing that.
Eric Bandholz: Yeah. I think it was 2009 or 2010 that I started working at Merrill. I think the biggest problem I had with that company was in the sense that you're trading time for money, so if you want to scale up, especially in that industry, if you want to scale up your business you have to start working with people who have bigger and bigger portfolios, which to me is kind of slimy. I don't want to look at people based on their net worth. I want to be able to interact with people on the kind of almost trade my time for money is what feels a little more moral. So like it just, the whole industry just wasn't a good fit for me personally and kind of my philosophies on life. I really wasn't cut out to be successful in that role.
James McKinney: How long were you in that, and what was your step out of that ultimately leading to Beardbrand?
Eric Bandholz: I had a little problem working there in the sense that I hit my goals for the next six months early on. So like I got in there, didn't really enjoy it but of course I'm pretty good at what I do and ended up finding success. I had these golden handcuffs in the sense that I felt like I had to stay working there because I had already hit my goals for the next six months. So I ended up being there for about a year and a half I would say. Eventually, when my runway went out was kind of like for one, I didn't feel good about building a book of business when I knew I was going to be out. Like that's kind of not really nice to the people you're building relationships with. So anyways, I left there, started growing out my beard, and started my next entrepreneurial journey. Tried my hand at it again, with a little savings built up, a little bit of confidence behind me.
James McKinney: That first venture being if I'm again following your LinkedIn, Sovereignty, right?
Eric Bandholz: Yeah, I would say Sovereignty is the first project that actually made more than $200. So I've had plenty of other projects that either were negative money or…
James McKinney: Yeah.
Eric Bandholz: I had this little ecommerce business called Walkamo which was vinyl wall graphics built on a Magento site. I think is old like two orders there and kind of gave up on that. Yeah, Sovereignty was essentially I was a freelance graphic designer for people building WordPress websites.
James McKinney: Okay. Again, so following the breadcrumbs here, sales history. I can see the entrepreneurial gene playing out. We have Magento experience from ecommerce side. We have WordPress experience from a web development side. You have lead generation experience. All the things are starting to point to what ultimately becomes Beardbrand. But how? Again from an infrastructure side we answered those questions, but how do you get to the concept of Beardbrand? And now as we jump into unpacking Beardbrand, can you just kick us off with our listeners that aren't familiar with the brand what is Beardbrand?
Eric Bandholz: So to answer your question first about all the skills, I'm a little ADD so if something interests me I kind of go into it. So graphic design or web design or whatever, that all started in high school and college making fake IDs and it kind of progressed over time to building websites and managing these side projects. The Beardbrand story actually starts, it actually also starts going back to college when I remember I would meet up with all the counselors and probably at the time I had a little goatee or sideburns or something. But they would always say if you want to interview for a job, you have to shave your beard. I just felt like the beard was part of me. I just enjoyed having facial hair.
I thought it was kind of silly that you had to shave for a job. It was a really strong opinion of people in white collar space. When you have a wife who makes pretty good money and food is on the table, and you're starting up your own business, you kind of get to do what you want. So that's when I started growing my beard out and really started getting long. I'd still go to networking events. People would call me ZZ Top or Grizzly Adams, Duck Dynasty. Again, those are cool guys. I think they really rock the beard well but that's not me either. So it was so much of this journey has been me just trying to simply be myself.
It wasn't until I attended an event where I started meeting other entrepreneurs and business people and doctors and lawyers and sales people and stay at home dads that I realized there was this whole community of guys that didn't fit the traditional stereotype of this bearded guy, and I realized that these guys are called urban beardsman. That's what we coin them. And that I wanted to create Beardbrand as a way to unite them and really to foster confidence through their own style and through becoming who they wanted to be.
James McKinney: So in the early days, and first off what do you consider the beginning date of Beardbrand?
Eric Bandholz: There's two start dates to Beardbrand. Start date number one is February I think it's like 7th or February 8th when I bought the domain beardbrand.com of 2012. And that's when I built the blog and the Tumblr page and the YouTube channel, with one of my friends at the time John Risinger. Then the second start date for Beardbrand is January 28th, 2013. That's when we launched the ecommerce store for Beardbrand, and I did that with my business partners Lindsey, Jeremy and at the time there's a fourth Josh, so it was the four of us who were getting this store off the ground.
James McKinney: So for the first three years it was really about community building.
Eric Bandholz: First year. The first year was, well I wouldn't even say there was a strategy behind it. It was just like oh here, I like to make a website, make it, put a few articles up, and then get bored and do some other things. But have enough interest in it to kind of keep it going. So I mean after that first year, we had 300 subscribers on YouTube. We were getting a few hundred visitors to the blog. It wasn't like I had built any kind of massive following in those early days, but it was enough to kind of get noticed by a reporter for the New York Times which we leveraged to really start the ecommerce site.
James McKinney: So what was the, you talk about just the affinity for facial hair and your passion for it, and you wanting to just kind of own yourself if you will, not the personas of those who are popular with the beards like you mention ZZ Top and Phil Robertson and so be it. So when you think of you purpose for growing Beardbrand, what do you attach that too? What is your starting point mission when you started this?
Eric Bandholz: It was just that. I think our first tagline was, "To change the way society views beardsman." So the very beginning stages, we wanted to show you that just because you had a beard it doesn't mean you necessarily fit these traditional stereotypes and that you can grow a beard and be any kind of guy. You can be a Grizzly Adams. You can be a biker, you can be a musician, you can be a dad, you can be a doctor, you can be a lawyer, you can be a person, a man. We wanted to really help society know that just because someone grows a beard it doesn't mean that it's inappropriate for the environment they're growing it in.
James McKinney: Now a lot of times when it comes to the subscription business in any way, shape, or form there is a basis, a core in which you are uniting around. But it sounds like Beardbrand has been successful in building its business around almost breaking down the barriers as to what the identity of a beard is. So as opposed to aggregating people around a singular identity, you've been breaking apart the walls as to what that is. Am I seeing it correctly or do you think there's a nuance I'm missing?
Eric Bandholz: Yeah. At Beardbrand, we're very individual driven. We want to support the individual and recognize when you're individually focused that they're all different. But I do think there are common elements at least to the individuals that are drawn to Beardbrand that bring us together, and that's really around our core values of freedom, hunger, and trust and this desire to want to improve yourself, to become a better version of yourself, to really kind of own who you are and own the person that you show to the world. Then ultimately, people who want to make an impact on their families, their careers, and the community.
James McKinney: And you mention that New York Times did an article on you and that kind of became the entryway into the box business. What was the focus of that article?
Eric Bandholz: It was I think the article was called The Taming of the Beards, and it was basically talking about I think beard grooming products or how celebrities were all growing beards out;. It was kind of really at the beginning of this energetic renaissance of facial hair and a lot of people started growing out their beards, and they were very passionate about it. People were writing about it and then a couple of years later they were talking about how the beard is a fad and how it's all dying. Those articles have kind of disappeared as well and I don't see any less facial hair as I walk around here in Austin.
James McKinney: So the box. Let's talk about your movement into the box business. Would you say you are in the subscription box business or that is a singular product line under the Beardbrand entity?
Eric Bandholz: We kind of phrase it a little bit differently. I would say most of our sales are through traditional just ecommerce business, and then I would say we call it auto renew is what we do. So we allow people to reorder their products on an as needed basis depending on how quickly they go through the products. So there is a subscription element to it, and then we also work through the channel and sell into places like Target and other barbershop and independent retailers and salons.
James McKinney: Can you be found on Amazon?
Eric Bandholz: No, man.
James McKinney: Did you start on Amazon at all?
Eric Bandholz: Nah, nah. We didn't start on Amazon. We always started at Beardbrand.com. For a period of time we were on Amazon.
James McKinney: Before we continue on with Eric's incredible startup story, I want to expand a bit more on the amazing opportunity you have with Startup Story Live. Many times, I hear from listeners about how fortunate I am to sit with these incredible founders to pick their brain and learn directly from them. Well, that is exactly what startup story live will provide for you. Every single founder will be live and there will be Q&A sessions with each of them. You get to sit with founders like Jason McCann of Varidesk, now they've rebranded as Vari. Jamie Schmidt of Schmidt Naturals, which she sold to Unilever hundreds of millions of dollars. Matthew Arevalo, cofounder of Loot Crate which grew to $100 million in just three years and pretty much put the subscription box business on the map. And so many more. It's a full day.
This type of opportunity to get direct access to these amazing founders would cost close to a thousand dollars easily, but it's absolutely free. Yes, the entire livestream and Q&A experience is free. We're able to do this because of the sponsors that we're pursuing for the event. Don't let this opportunity pass you by. Visit startupstorylive.com for all the details and to register. Again, startupstorylive.com. All right, enough of the announcements. Now let's get back to our episode.
James McKinney: Can you be found on Amazon?
Eric Bandholz: No, man.
James McKinney: Did you start on Amazon at all?
Eric Bandholz: Nah, nah. We didn't start on Amazon. We always started at Beardbrand.com. For a period of time we were on Amazon and we pulled off a couple years ago, and it was just a really nice boom to the business to not be on that platform.
James McKinney: And I ask that question because I think there's a lot of when I think of Ju Rhyu with Hero Cosmetics, a past guest, part of her story is leveraging Amazon strictly for the visibility, but everything was driven by their ecommerce site. It was always about moving people to ecommerce and just leveraging Amazon just for the traffic, the eyes, and the brand awareness.
Eric Bandholz: Yeah. I think for us, because we're so generally brand heavy on our own, we have a YouTube channel with 1.5 million subscribers now. A lot of people knew about Beardbrand before they got to Amazon so I think what's happening for us was people would go and shop on Beardbrand.com and then immediately pull up Amazon, look for the product on Amazon, and buy it there. Whereas what happens now is there's nothing on Amazon except for counterfeit products or stolen products or arbitrage stuff, so they're like oh yeah I'll just get it from Beardbrand, get better experience. It's good for us because Amazon recommends, Lord knows what they recommend but on Beardbrand I know we're recommending Beardbrand products.
James McKinney: Yep, yep. So as an ecommerce business, what has been some of the challenges you've experienced within the niche that you speak to, as well as just the general consumer acquisition side of running an ecommerce site?
Eric Bandholz: I've got a laundry list of problems. Where do you want to go? You can be my therapist and help me with all of them. I think one of the biggest challenges now, about eight years into the business, is the name of the company is Beardbrand but our product offering has grown beyond the beard. So we have hair shampoo, hair conditioner. We have body bars or we call it a utility bar, you can use it on your hair, beard, face. We have balms, we have styling products, sea salt spray, and then of course with have our beard care products as well.
So one of the challenges I think is for guys like you who the very first thing you say to me is I've never heard of you because I don't have a beard, well that's' frustrating to me because I think there's so much opportunity for us to be able to get out there and show guys what it's like to use a higher quality product that isn't that cheap, convenience store product that so many guys have been using over the years.
James McKinney: Do you think there's a risk in expanding the audience that you reach as opposed to staying with those that have this affinity and this community, this camaraderie around having a beard?
Eric Bandholz: Yeah, I think so. There's a risk in everything so it's one of those things where if we wanted to go beyond the beard to do it right we'd probably have to change our name. but we're kind of going, we've got the name Beardbrand, we're committed to it. We've got the beard in our logo. It's kind of part of our DNA. I think our opportunity is really to just help people and kind of what we learned over the past six months or so is people are going to find us from beard care, and then hopefully if we do a good job we can help them find other products in their grooming routine. Then Ideally if it's good enough those people will recommend it to their friends and family.
James McKinney: So as we're talk about the future and the growth of how do you get beyond the beard and provide solutions for even your clientele that have facial hair, just the ability to sell more products into those people but also like myself who can't grow facial hair very swell or I look like a dog with mange if I do try to grow it, the products that I might find useful. What was your very first product that hit the store?
Eric Bandholz: Yeah. So we started with beard oil. Well, we actually started as a retailer of products so we didn't even manufacture our own product which again was beard oil and mustache wax. Then we came out with our own beard oil and mustache wax a few months, about five months, into it. So yeah, started with beard care and grew from there.
James McKinney: You transitioned from being a reseller to a maker of products. Was that always part of your vision or was it something that you saw as you're growing this audience base?
Eric Bandholz: We talk about the growth of Beardbrand, always want to bring it back to the start of Beardbrand, and it has been about the community, how do we grow the community, how do we support the community, how can we really help men become the better versions of themselves. The way I look at products are products are a way for us to fund that voice. The more products we can sell, the more capital we have to influence people and effect people, and to inspire people.
When I originally had the vision for Beardbrand, the products weren't even grooming products. They were like lifestyle and apparel, what you would imagine Vans is to skateboarders or Lululemon is to yoga people, I wanted Beardbrand to be that for bearded people. It just turns out it was a lot easier to sell grooming products than it was suspenders and wallets, and shirts and things like that. That's usually a pretty good indicator. If you have two options for putting your limited time towards something and one of them is a lot easier than the other, and it's giving you better results, then go with the easier one. That was a hard lesson for me in those early days because I was really tied into this idea and this vision of it being the Lululemon for beards.
James McKinney: You know, it's funny when you're putting those examples, those correlations, Vans to skateboards, and you said Lululemon, I was doing the autofill like Lululemon to stay at home moms. To yoga people, I'm like oh, that's not what I was going to say.
Eric Bandholz: Is that who buys it now?
James McKinney: Pretty sure. In fact, there's a few videos online that kind of mock the Lululemon culture. It's pretty comical. But I guess at that point if you're finding people that are creating content about your product, then you've probably done fairly well for yourself.
Eric Bandholz: Yeah.
James McKinney: So as you grew this, one of the things that we talk about here on The Startup Story is just some of the, some of our own personal narrative and our own doubt in the ability to execute. One of the narratives that's out there that people tend to think about entrepreneurship is that you're built for it, it's something that you are either you have the Midas touch or you don't. Was there any part of your journey in growing Beardbrand where you doubted your ability to execute it?
Eric Bandholz: Outside of narcissist and maybe some mental disorders, I think everyone has got some fashion of doubt or some kind of insecurities, or some point in their life or in their journey that they question whether or not they can do it, myself included. I don't think there's anyone out there. But also to kind of add to your point, I do think there is something about being an entrepreneur that a lot of people don't naturally have. Now, can they develop those skills? I think they can, but it is a completely different way of seeing the world and reacting to the world, and taking on task that I don't think anyone can do it really to be frank unless they build the journey towards it, unless they build that pathway towards it.
James McKinney: Was there any point in growing Beardbrand that you came close to just closing doors and walking away from it? Or has it been a success from day one?
Eric Bandholz: No, we've been very fortunate. So Beardbrand has been I would call it a success from day one. Now success can be viewed in a lot of different ways. It started off as just a side project so it was never this project where there was this has to work or has to hit this point in sales or we're closing the doors. We were able to kind of grow it at various stages and be okay with whatever stage it got to because from day one we were okay with it just being a side project that made a couple hundred bucks on the side.
Now, we've certainly had good months and bad months, and good years and bad years like every other business. I don't think it's hit the level of success that I think it's capable of, so drives me into coming into work every day and fix things, try to make it better to the best of my abilities.
James McKinney: How capital intensive is your business? Especially now that you're making product.
Eric Bandholz: E-commerce is a really hard business when you're selling product. We have a lot of inventory and we have about 115 SKUs, so all the SKUs require inventory and we order for months at a time. Yeah man, lots of money goes into that and of course the government doesn't care, it considers it cash so you still have to have something to pay the bills at the end of the year.
James McKinney: What was your funding strategy starting and then have you had outside investment capital since?
Eric Bandholz: My business partners, they each brought in about $4,000 of investment each and had to kind of buy out my shares in the early days, and that's been it. We've just been able to grow through eating Ramen as I call it, not spending a lot of money, not paying ourselves, and through the success of the business and the profits of that the business has generated.
James McKinney: That's incredible. Do you hope to keep it that way or do you have a plan of growth that you can see at this point we're going to have to go for I guess it would be a Series A for you?
Eric Bandholz: I could have my years wrong because I get them messed up a bunch but in April of 2017 my business partners, we all went down to Amsterdam and kind of had this coming to Jesus moment. We were stressed out of the gills. Things weren't working, the company wasn't growing. But at that time the company had already gotten to a pretty good stage. I don't remember the exacts but let's say it was about $3 million in revenue, and we kind of said to ourselves, we said look if the company never grows another dollar, a $3 million company is a really nice company. It can give you a really nice way of life. It can pay for putting food on the table and a roof over your head, and allow you to travel the world and kind of have freedom.
So it was at that point we realized hey, let's enjoy the ride, let's enjoy the journey, let's no longer try to grow at all costs and instead focus on the bottom line and try to have a really healthy business that can pay us, and then we don't have to feel so stressed out. We made that switch in 2017 and that's been a really good thing. At Beardbrand, we're not driven to be the next unicorn. We're not driven to be on the cover of Inc. magazine or Fast Company or whatever. We're driven to improve the business for the sake of getting our message out and making society better in a way that we can enjoy the journey as well.
James McKinney: Let's unpack that a bit, because I think one that is a perspective and way of thinking that a lot of entrepreneurs… Let me rephrase, I don't want to say a lot. There are many entrepreneurs that share that perspective, that sit in the same camp as you. But it's really hard to stay in that camp when all the narrative you hear, whether it be Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes, Inc, all the business magazines keep talking about growth and scale, and nine digit revenue figures. Obviously the venture capital side of business is super glamorous, and we have Shark Tank, and everything else. The narrative is counter to the camp that you are staying in. How hard is it for you to stay in that camp?
Eric Bandholz: I get contacted pretty regularly from VCs and private equity and investment companies and all that. Generally, I'm pretty polite to them. Not always, but for the most part I'm pretty nice to them. In the early days I used to take all the calls because you never know what your business has. And I want to be clear that I'm not anti VC, I'm not anti raising money. I think there's a lot of really cool ways to build a business and because I do it this way doesn't mean the alternative way is any worse or bad or anything like that.
James McKinney: Absolutely, and I wasn't presuming that was the case. I think that where you're sitting at is a very healthy perspective of business because I think too many people go into business with these massive aspirational goals as opposed to making an impact for those of a certain genre, a lifestyle business where you can travel and provide for family and your employees. There's a lot to be said about the mental health inside of the camp as opposed to that is idea that what you're doing is not enough and you've got to keep pushing, pushing, pushing which is what most of the narrative is.
Eric Bandholz: Yeah. I think for us a lot of everything comes back to our core values. Our core values are again freedom, hunger, and trust. To me, if you have debt or you have loans or if you have outside partners who aren't really invested in your business, then you're working for someone else. You're selling products to get revenue to pay off your loans, or you're making actions to appease this outside investor and you've lost freedom. So we always try to make our decisions built around our core values in a way that help us maintain focus and make sure we're going down the right pathway. So it's been really beneficial for us to be able to lean on those as we've grown.
James McKinney: You've mentioned your core values a few times: freedom, hunger, and trust. Can you unpack hunger and trust?
Eric Bandholz: I could talk about the core values all day long, maybe another podcast.
James McKinney: Of course.
Eric Bandholz: But I like to think of our core values as a triangle. So you have freedom, you have hunger, you have trust. And these core values, they work in harmony with each other because what happens is if you pull one too far out of the way, then the other ones kind of get smaller. So if you have too much hunger then you can start to erode the trust you have in your team, or the freedom in life if you're just tied to working at all costs. So our core values were really built around that. So for us, trust is super important because if you have trust with people you're working with then it allows the business to operate smoother and quicker. It's like the lubrication for business is trust. Then hunger of course is just this innate drive to make things better. I don't really know how to do that other than I just want, you've just kind of got to want to work and do cool things.
James McKinney: Yeah, excellent. One of the ways that I became known of Beardbrand was a series of commercials during the World Series in which ShipStation had featured you as really their success story. One of the things that I find interesting about entrepreneurship that I love so much are the collaborations between brands, because I do believe entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. Can you unpack how that story came to be?
Eric Bandholz: Yeah, ShipStation they're a great company. They're here in Austin, Texas as well and our relationship goes back to I've got to say like 2014 when they only had like probably 25 employees at the time and they were kind of in this SAS startup world. They swung by. We invited them over to the old Beardbrand office and I thought it was just going to be their director of marketing, whatever, they just wanted to get some feedback from us on the product. They ended up bringing like 20 people it seemed like, the whole team. Our office was tiny at the time and we couldn't fit everyone in there. They passed out free shirts and stuff like that. That was like the start of the relationship and then we kind of stayed in touch.
Their creative team reached out to me and said, "Hey, we're doing these little case studies. Would you like to be in it?" and I never turn down something like that, you know a good link for your business and established company. Of course, they're a company and product that we've been using since day one and were really beneficial to helping us get off the ground and saved us a lot of money on shipping costs, so it was a no brainer. They came by and I just thought it was going to be like an online web video type of thing, little case study that they emailed out.
Well, I would say probably three months or six months after recording all that, my mom texts me and she said, "Oh, I saw you on TV," or, "Your uncle saw you on TV." I was like oh yeah, Shark Tank rerun because I was on Shark Tank. And she's like, "No, it wasn't that. It was something else." I'm like what? That's when I learned that ShipStation was running this TV commercial and it was just like okay, I'll take it, you know?
James McKinney: That's awesome. And what has been the impact? Obviously you have Shark Tank, you have ShipStation. I think there's a lot of people listening that hear those two things and I say ShipStation meaning World Series commercial series, I think a lot of people hear those outlets they think massive success, next level. In their mind, this is the cream of the crop man if I can get that kind of visibility the business would change drastically. A couple questions out of that. One, how true is that thought that my listeners may have on that? And two how short lived was the impact of those outlets?
Eric Bandholz: One of the things I say about like being on Shark Tank is yes, you're going to have a boost to it and it's going to give you a leg up and it's going to be great. But at the same time it is just that little peak, that little mountain for a period of time and for whenever the reruns are. But then it's back to the grind. If it was this automatic homerun where if you'd just be on Shark Tank and you're multi billionaire or whatever, then you wouldn't hear about all these stories of former Shark Tank investments going out of business. Business is a grind whether or not you get a little bit of good coverage or not. There's plenty of companies that have probably built far larger companies than we have with none of the PR that we've got. So the beauty of building a business is there's so many different ways to do it. As a guy without a lot of money or outside investment, you've kind of got to do the things that help your company grow when you don't have money. So PR is a big thing for us and trying to have an interesting story, and trying to tell that story to the right people has been an important strategy for us.
James McKinney: A lot of the things that people are doing, you mention PR they come around a social element. Obviously Tom's is probably the benchmark when people think of consumer product and social because it was probably one of the first buy one, give one models that I think we can all remember. When it comes to the social side of things, how does Beardbrand view the social engagement?
Eric Bandholz: Yeah, so you're talking about like just what do they call B corporations and stuff like that.
James McKinney: Yeah whether it be B corp, any goodwill efforts. How does Beardbrand play in that area?
Eric Bandholz: Me personally, I'm a little more drawn to your product, your company is the social impact on the world. So I think Steve Jobs was really kind of keen on that and the impact that Apple products were able to make on people's lives is the same way that we view Beardbrand in the sense that our products really do foster this kind of self-investment, this confidence. And it's through that confidence that they become better husbands, better coworkers, better employees, better neighbors, better stewards of their community. It all starts with loving the person who's looking back at them in the mirror. So that is our mission.
And you'll see it happen like for instance if you order for us right now we drop in every single order a little booklet called the Book of Reminders. It's a little booklet that I wrote that has nine different reminders that I tell myself as I face adversity and as I want to tackle the world. The first one is about breathing and mindfulness, and then kind of talks about haters are going to hate, invest in your financial future, things like that. So they're completely outside of the norms of a company that's just selling grooming products. It is about that investment, about becoming a better person. So that's been a pillar of the way we've been communicating since day number one.
James McKinney: That's incredible. I just happened to glance at the clock and our time is coming to an end, because I want to honor the commitment that you afforded me for this. So there's a couple questions we have left as our time begins to wrap up. That first one has to do with the ideal of entrepreneurship and you spoke to it a little bit earlier on. But that is there's a glamorization of entrepreneurship that has taken place over the last I want to probably say 10 to 15 years, definitely more so within the last five to eight. This idea that entrepreneurship has a specific path to it and a specific DNA makeup. So my question to you is do you believe anyone can be an entrepreneur? Or is it something that someone is born with the genetics to be an entrepreneur?
Eric Bandholz: So I've actually written an article on this subject matter. I think there's a distinction. I think they kind of get conflated a little bit for people but there's entrepreneurs and there's business owners. I think a lot of times business owner and an entrepreneur, they're synonymous, they go together. But I think there are people who are entrepreneurs who don't own a business, who work at Google who start up new projects, who work at car companies who design new cars. They have that entrepreneurial mindset. Then I think there's the business owners who frankly aren't entrepreneurs. They're sons and daughters of previous entrepreneurs and they manage companies and stuff like that, but they don't have that entrepreneurial type of mindset. They're more task oriented and driven to get their duties done, but they're not really seeing the world as an entrepreneur would see the world.
And then can anyone become it? I don't know. I mean the fluff answer is yeah, yeah anyone can be it, but the reality answer is I think most people don't have that… really they don't have that belief in themselves that they can make an impact on the world and they're not willing to do the work to push themselves to be able to get there. But you can get there. It is possible, especially in America, to be able to do this if you want to do it, but you have to be willing to have some L's on your shoulder.
James McKinney: Absolutely, absolutely. As we come to the end of this journey which is not the end of the Beardbrand journey but the end of your startup story, one of the questions that I ask every founder and again if I had to trim it down to 20 minutes this is not one that would ever be trimmed, and that's one about gratitude. I believe a lot of times part of the entrepreneurial narrative is that we're just laser focused, head down, grind through, to the detriment of those around us. The reason I ask this question about gratitude is that I believe if that if we begin to think that we did this on our own, we will begin to isolate ourselves and that will ultimately lead to our failure. So when you look back on your entire entrepreneurial journey, who are the people you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to where you are today?
Eric Bandholz: I've said this over and over again, but Beardbrand would not exist without my business partners. There's 100% certainty that Beardbrand would either be this dinky side project or just be some domain that I chose to not renew. Lindsey and Jeremy who are still my business partners, you know Lindsey's in the day to day. She kind of runs the operations. She's the calm head. She's an amazing person. Very creative person. And of course Jeremy is as well. He sits kind of at a board level, he's not in the day to day, and he can kind of give this outside perspective. He's another successful entrepreneur, business man with other businesses where he's able to bring that insight from his other businesses.
Then of course going back to Beardbrand not exists, my wife being the breadwinner for the years that it took to get Beardbrand to the point where it could pay me a living wage really, that took a while and really that would not have existed without her role as not only as the breadwinner but also an amazing mother and an amazing wife to support our family and to support me.
James McKinney: That's incredible. You pointed to your cofounders a few times throughout our time together, and I think when we think of community that is one side of community, just having someone that you're in the trenches with, pushing forward. How critical do you think community is in the entrepreneurial space? Because it definitely doesn't get a lot of love when it comes to media and just general discussion forums. But when you think of entrepreneurship, how critical is it that entrepreneurs be plugged in with other entrepreneurs?
Eric Bandholz: I'm a big believer in it. I'm fortunate to have a strong network with my business partners. There's other organizations where I think it's called EO, Entrepreneurs Organization or something like that, that provides a lot of similar things that my relationship, that I have with my business partners. But there's also within my space there's an e-commerce community called E-Commerce Fuel and it's a really great online community that also has a conference every year that allows me to connect with and meet with other people who are struggling with the same thing. Even like places like Twitter, you're able to connect with great people within the D to C space or even entrepreneurial space. I've built a lot of relationship and friendships with people on Twitter over the years.
James McKinney: Unbelievable. Part of the thought process around community is around mentorship as well. It's getting guidance from those that are farther down the road than you. I view The Startup Story podcast as a digital mentor for many. There's people that are listening now that have an idea for an e-commerce brand, and maybe it is in a similar space as Beardbrand, maybe it's something complementary, but they're not there yet. So they're hearing your story and some of the things that you had to journey through to get there, and they're becoming encouraged throughout that and some tactical steps in that. But we've been talking to tens of thousands at this point, and as a give to my audience I always like to bring the conversation down to the one.
And so whether that be the existing entrepreneur who's frustrated by lack of traction they're getting, they're not scaling as fast as the media outlets would say they should be after four years we'll say, they're having cash flow issues. Maybe it's the want-repreneur, the one who's got a 9 to 5 job, book full of dreams and ideas, and some narrative whether it be responsibilities, financial, whatever the case may be as to why they can't move forward on it because the narrative out there is if you're not all in on your hustle then you're not an entrepreneur. Or maybe it's the defeated entrepreneur, the one who's been punched in the gut time and time again, about ready to call it quits. Whatever of those personas, whatever one you resonate with, let's bring the conversation down to just and that person as if it's just over coffee in Austin somewhere. What do you say to that person?
Eric Bandholz: This message is really specific to any entrepreneur, whether they be in the want-repreneur space. I personally was in the want-repreneur space. The big lesson in life is that life really just sucks. It sucks really bad and there is a lot of really terrible things that go on. Whether it be cash flow issues, whether it be your business partner leaving you, whether it be your wife divorcing you or your husband divorcing you. It doesn't get easy. I'm here to tell you that everyone has their own adversity. I have my adversity. My business partner has her adversity and his adversity. Our customers, I have heard so many stories of people who have faced challenges.
But the reality is your life, the limited time you have on this planet, you are meant to do something. Everything that's led you up to this point has made a mark on what you're doing, and you're able to leverage the things you've learned to pivot and turn it into something that is meant for you to be, and that could be just a better understand of who you are, or that could end up being the business of your dreams that affords you the life that you want to live. So I just want you to say, part of this journey is accepting the fact that life is going to suck, and then once you come to terms with that suck, you're able to really find a blueprint for how to overcome that suck and elevate your life.
James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value Eric brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. My key takeaway from my time with Eric was the power of clarity. Whether it's clarity of who you are as an entrepreneur, who you are as a person, who you are as a beardsman, or even who you are as an organization, you need to be crystal clear on that truth. As you gain that clarity, you can then navigate the road ahead in a manner that is in full alignment of your vision and purpose. Take the time to find your clarity. I suspect that this is not an exercise you've gone through during our present quarantine. Well, it's never too late. Use this time while our world is disrupted and gain clarity on what you want to see for yourself, your family, and your business. This virus crisis is going to pass, so don't jump right back into things without a clear vision of where you want to go. Capitalize on this moment right now.
And if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. And when I asked Eric how we could support Beardbrand, his response was to visit beardbrand.com to order some product. But then he explained why. See, Eric started unpacking all the layers of the Beardbrand experience, from the ordering process, the email communication, order update flow, and even how the packaging is managed. He suggested that we order so that we as entrepreneurs can see all the little details that he has put into the customer experience so that we can replicate it for our business.
Today more than ever, the experience is just as important as the product or service and Eric wants to continue to serve us. So let's show up for Eric Bandholz and Beardbrand in such a huge way by the tens of thousands of us visiting beardbrand.com and ordering a product to experience the Beardbrand. Remember, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs so let's make this happen. And now for my personal ask.
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