My guest this week is Eric Girouard, the founder of BRUNT Workwear. BRUNT Workwear is slowly becoming the workwear brand for those who build the things we see and rely on every day. It is a D2C brand that seeks to serve one of the most underserved demographics out there: tradesmen.
My guest this week is Eric Girouard, the founder of BRUNT Workwear. BRUNT Workwear is slowly becoming the workwear brand for those who build the things we see and rely on every day. It is a D2C brand that seeks to serve one of the most underserved demographics out there: tradesmen.
If you think about it, how many entrepreneurs begin their business with the target audience of a welder, crane operator, construction worker, or pipeline contractor? Not many startups are geared towards that market. Entrepreneurs are missing a huge opportunity here. Tradesmen are some of the most loyal customers out there. How have they been ignored for so long?
In this episode, Eric Girouard is sharing his thoughts on that question with us. He grew up in that demographic but paid no attention to it when he helped build various other startups. This huge, better-than-average income demographic has been so neglected. Tune in to hear how Eric’s entrepreneurial journey led him to start a company that serves this loyal segment of consumers.
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Eric Girouard, founder of BRUNT Workwear
Eric Girouard: Hi y'all, Eric Girouard here, founder and CEO of BRUNT Workwear, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. How has 2021 started for you? Would you like a little boost in visibility for your business and brand? Then make sure to leave a review within Apple Podcast and plug your brand in that review. In fact, here's an actual review from Ashley Borden who gave the show a five star rating and wrote: "I continue to listen to The Startup Story and love how I am constantly learning with every single episode. You provide such valuable content to help me scale my business, ashleyborden.com." See how easy that was? And because Ashley included her URL in that review 85,000 just became aware of ashleyborden.com and will probably hit it up or Google it. Well, if that is the type of free advertising you would like then make sure to leave a written review in Apple Podcast today. And if you think your startup story is deserving of a full episode then please visit thestartupstory.co/yourstory and submit your story for consideration for a featured episode. Everything I do is to provide you with the fuel you need to keep going. Now let's jump in to this week's episode.
My guest this week is Eric Girouard, the founder of BRUNT Workwear. BRUNT Workwear is slowly becoming the workwear brand for those who are building everything that you and I rely on every day. BRUNT Workwear is a D2C brand that seeks to serve one of the most underserved demographics out there: the tradesmen. Think about it, how many startups have you come across where their target persona is a welder, a crane operator, a construction worker, or a pipeline contractor? Yet it is that consumer persona that is far more loyal than any other persona out there. In fact, it is that persona that will tattoo your brand on their forearm literally. Think about that, how many Google tattoos do you see? Zero. But how many Chevy, Ford, or Yeti tattoos do you see? Exactly. How is it that this massive, better than average income demographic has been overlooked for so long? Well Eric actually shares his thoughts on this question because it was the demographic he grew up in but paid zero attention to it with various other startups that he helped to build. Startups like M. Gemi, luxury footwear brand, and Trade Coffee, a bougie coffee marketplace. If you still question whether or not this demographic is truly underserved when it comes to innovation and startups then maybe, just for a second here, for a moment, let my guest roster be a reasonable sample size for you.
See, after 110 episodes do you know how many founders I had that started a business serving this demographic? None until this very episode. So let's hear directly from Eric Girouard exactly how his very eclectic entrepreneurial journey led him to start a company that serves one of the most loyal segments of consumers imaginable.
Eric Girouard: I grew up in a very small town, Bristol, Connecticut, so blue collar town. Parents were not entrepreneurs at all, wasn't really surround by many entrepreneurs, and didn't even know what that actually meant until much later in life, really until high school. But I did get the bug early. Growing up in a small town, dad worked for Pratt Whitney building airplane engines, crazy hours, was working all the time just to support me and my two sisters. Also had a second job through a lot of my life roofing for his friend's company, and eventually in my teenage years I ended up going over there and working with them very young. So there was hustle and hard work, but it wasn't entrepreneur. It was blue collar, putting in as many hours as you can, earning the hourly wage, and because of that my dad wasn't around a lot because he was working to provide for the family and my mom was really taking care of us, and she was also working but that was kind of divide and conquer. So I guess that was the only part that has carried through my life is just the hard work, hard hours. And then seeing my parents always wanted the best for us but couldn't always afford everything, and seeing them struggle, and dad having to work even more to try to send me away to soccer camp in the summer, things of that nature, was really what started to make me realize that being able to build a career and a life that hopefully doesn't have the stresses that my parents had was kind of an early motivation. And so-
James McKinney: I'm laughing because the idea that entrepreneurship might not have those stresses-
Eric Girouard: Right.
James McKinney: … is comical, right?
Eric Girouard: Exactly, exactly. Quite the opposite. So yeah, so that was very early on and then it was in middle school, no elementary school so probably third or fourth grade when I first started doing some entrepreneurial stuff. There was a game that came out when I was in elementary school called Pog and it was circular things that you threw a slammer on top of, and anyways hopefully some people remember that.
James McKinney: Absolutely they do.
Eric Girouard: So I was a big collector of those things. I started trading with kids on the school bus slammers and things of that nature, and it started wheeling and dealing basically Pogs. Not for money but just getting things and so that was like the earliest days where I cut a deal with the young kid and his dad ended up coming to my house and talking to my mom, saying, "Where's this?" And realizing that we actually did a trade. They actually thought I stole something from him and he's like, "Oh, we just cut a bad deal." And so it was kind of funny.
My mom was a little confused so it started there, and then really in middle school and in high school I had a lot of time on my hands so I started making, this is embarrassing to say, but I started making hemp necklaces where I could do them at night and put beads and customize them for people, and sell them to my friends because that was kind of a trend back in middle school and early high school. So that was really like small time childish stuff, but then at 14 I got my first job, started working for my dad's friend's roofing company, technically illegal I guess at age 14, but that was really where I got the bug. Then I remember my first paycheck I think I was getting like $8 an hour but I had worked a 40 hour week, and at the end of week he handed me a stack of money and I was like wow. I got to be outside in the sun, using my muscles to lift up shingles, and I got paid for it. It was just like that's incredible.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Eric Girouard: And that kind of started everything, and then it continued on from there. But that's kind of like the early stages, really small time, trading then making small time products, and then really getting my first job and that's kind of the early journey.
James McKinney: It's funny you mention Pogs because our very first episode featured Jason McCann from Varidesk, now Vari, and part of his story was on the tail end of Pogs he created a game similar to it and he tried to sell it to a toy company, or tried to sell distribution through a toy company, and the toy VP said, "That ship has sailed. No one's interested in that anymore," and he has a truck of about $50,000 in Pog-esque game equipment and he's like, "What am I going to do with this now?" It's funny bringing up Pogs. But when we think to your journey and those micro hustles if you will, but now you're working with a roofing company, you've seen a job how your work equals X amount of dollars, your parents have surrounded you with the idea of stability when it comes to employment, what did you think you wanted to do coming to the end of your high school years?
Eric Girouard: So after that roofing job I actually started my own landscaping business. Started it when I was 15 for neighbors, so literally going across the street mowing their lawns, doing their work. I was in shape and I was whatever, I was affordable and so people liked that. So when I was 15 I actually started doing it for people in other neighborhoods and friends of my family, or my sister actually got me a few jobs, and I couldn't drive yet because I didn't have my license. So my mom would actually, I would take my dad's lawnmower, put it in the back of her SUV, she would drive me, drop me off, and then come pick me up after the job was done. Then when I was doing like mulch and things of that nature I'd have to call the mulching company, have them deliver it to the person's house and then my mom would drop me off, I would do the work, and she'd come back at the end of the day. So I had done that, not massively large because I was a pretty avid athlete, a three season athlete between soccer and running. So I was doing it after practices in the evening and over the weekends, but it was pretty good. It was pretty stable and then I eventually had some of my buddies come work with me.
So there was a point when I thought that was what I was going to do after high school, was going to turn that into a fulltime business and expand and all that. But then my mom which I give her credit for, because neither of my parents had gone off to college, said, "You've got a knack at a young age for business. You should start looking at going into business school." And so I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to college and all that stuff, and so we ended up going and touring some of these schools, and I ended up… she brought me to one called Babson which is up in Massachusetts, Wellesley Massachusetts, and was just blown away with everything about it from the campus to the people. It was a totally different world. Probably my last two years in high school, and I had really good grades so that was unusual. I wouldn't say I'm a very smart high IQ person but I was able to get good grades because I worked really hard, and would study really hard and use flashcards. But I wasn't like off the charts SAT smart. It ended up working that I ended up getting into Babson and that was a big, one was I was going to go start my own landscaping business and then I got into Babson and luckily she put me on that path and changed my life. It was probably the best thing that could have ever happened.
James McKinney: That's awesome. I'm not going to lie when you were talking about your intelligence and IQ, and you're raised in the New England area of Massachusetts and Connecticut, I was really hoping you would say, "I wasn't wicked smaht".
Eric Girouard: Exactly, exactly.
James McKinney: I was really hoping that was the phrase you were going to use.
Eric Girouard: I get that all the time, all the time.
James McKinney: I love it. So college is a very formative time for us. We're processing the things that we think we want to do. A lot of times our eyes are opened more to what the opportunities are. Again, back to influences we are who we surround ourselves with and so based on how you were navigating the college years coming to the end of college now what did you think you wanted to do? Because your eyes are a bit open, your perspective is a bit broader, what did that next step look like for you?
Eric Girouard: College was unbelievable. So it was complete shock for me because coming from the small town of Bristol, Connecticut, going to a school like Babson, there were freshman there that had businesses doing tens of millions of dollars-
James McKinney: Wow.
Eric Girouard: …and I didn't even understand what that even meant. There were a lot of international students so it was really diverse. People from all over the world, different nationalities, different religions. And I didn't see any of that from my hometown so I was thrown into something that was very uncomfortable and unusual, but was very social and got along with a lot of people so that kind of helped grease my jumping into a whole new world. It opened up my eyes and was like wow, there's a big world out there. There's like so much opportunity, you can kind of do whatever you want if you really want to. But I was still pretty conservative in college just because of my upbringing, and my parents were very conservative. My mom was, "You should get a very stable job, your uncle was a CPA back in the day and did very well for himself. You should go into something very stable like accounting or finance." That was the path actually I started on which was going down an accounting kind of finance route, mostly because of the stability of it, not that it is ever really stable but it was more stable than trying to start my own company at the time.
And that was a terrible decision. I was a terrible accountant. I have ADD, I can't sit in front of a monitor for 10 hours a day and Excel spreadsheets, which is required to do that. And so but ended up going down that path. I knew one day that I actually wanted to start a company but thought it was going to be very much later in life after I was stable and all that stuff. So coming out of college was very conservative, coming out of a school that mostly breeds entrepreneurs and I was going into somewhat of a conservative career path at that point.
James McKinney: That's incredible. Now there's a lot of steps that take place between college and where we're at today with BRUNT Workwear.
Eric Girouard: Yes, yes.
James McKinney: And in fact I don't know if I've seen a more diverse journey in entrepreneurship across my 110 episodes. There are times where I can see these breadcrumbs and I refer to the breadcrumbs a ton throughout The Startup Story because there is a path and a thread that gets us there, so I'm interested to find out what is the common thread across all your different experiences, because you had mentioned you have ADD and whether that was in jest or in seriousness-
Eric Girouard: Diagnosed but untreated.
James McKinney: So legit then.
Eric Girouard: Yeah.
James McKinney: I'm not going to lie, when I saw your entrepreneurial pathway I thought, "This is entrepreneurial ADD. He's all over the map with industries and sectors." So walk us through how we get from Babson to BRUNT Workwear, and all the different steps you took because I know my listeners are going to be fascinated, especially that I teed it up. It's so disparate across what they are, but maybe it's a role that's the common thread in shaping you where you are today. Help walk us through Babson to BRUNT Workwear.
Eric Girouard: Yep. So coming out of Babson, so I went into the accounting world. Safe bet, was actually very bad at the job. Was not qualified for it, wasn't capable of it. Only kept the job because I was very, like I said I was very social and very outgoing, and I was actually able to bring business in which is really in the accounting world that's what partners do. The partners go out and bring in the business, and the staff which is what I was do all the work. But I was actually bringing in clients which were all my Babson connections who ran these companies and so the firm kept me around because they were like, "He's pretty valuable even though he's incapable of actually doing the accounting." But one of the partners there actually took me under his wing and said, "Listen, you're going to grind this out. Maybe we'll create a sales type role for you, but it's like we're fitting a square peg in a round hole." He's like, "My brother is a top sales executive at a big company called EMC, which is now owned by Dell." He's like, "With some proper sales training, military style sales training, you could be exceptional."
That was big step in my life because I was going the conservative path and I don't know if I would have gotten off that path. And so he ended up introducing me, ended up moving over to that company, rounds of interviews and got in. that was really like my college education in sales. You know you go in for six weeks, you don't do any work. They just train you to be like a sales assassin. They invest heavy up front and it was perfect, because I was naturally good at relationships and communicating and they taught me the process of discipline and follow through, and the seven steps, all these things. Thought I was going to do that forever and loved it. Was top of my class, all that stuff. Was on a path, there was a lot of money in front of me and offers. But it was at, so I was there for only one year and things were going great. I'm like, "I'm going to be here for 50 years, retire here," and then I got introduced to a serial entrepreneur named Ben Fishman who had started when he was in high school Lids, the baseball cap company store. So 600 stores around the country now. He was in his early 40s and he was running, he had started and was the CEO of a company called Rue La La, big online fashion flash sale business. Think higher end TJ Maxx but online.
James McKinney: Okay. What year was that real quick? Let's put a time stamp on that.
Eric Girouard: That was 2012.
James McKinney: 2012, okay. So well into the internet era, well into ecommerce, we're rich in that period.
Eric Girouard: Exactly, yeah 2.0 of ecommerce. So I got introduced to him and I took the meeting, and took the interview just because his resume was so incredible and Rue La La had already blown up. It had sold for $350 million and it was just astronomical not to take the meeting. He and I ended up connecting incredibly well, just personally, the way he works and what he needed and all that. I ended up quitting that sales job which I thought I was going to literally retire at that company, because my thesis was I had the entrepreneurial bug, I knew I wanted to do that later on in life, but this is the chance of a lifetime and if I can't survive and it doesn't work I can go back into sales 10 years from now.
James McKinney: Yep, yep.
Eric Girouard: So I left. My parents were super nervous, you have this really good job, you finally have a clear path to pay off your student loans and all this stuff and now you quit? So that was a big transition. That was accounting to sales, and then now I'm going into this startup world. Even though the business was quite big and successful already it was two years in, 200 employees, growing incredibly rapid, and it was a mess in terms of every day was things were breaking.
James McKinney: What were you coming onboard for?
Eric Girouard: So I joined him in this new role that he created called a Chief of Staff role, which was new at the time but is a little bit more common now, and I was his right hand man to manage all external relationships. So my sales background lent well to that.
James McKinney: got it, okay.
Eric Girouard: So Rue La La we were in the market a lot meeting with all the executives and CEOs of all the big fashion brands from Coach and Tory Burch and all that. I was his proxy. I'd go to every meeting with him, I was basically attached to the hip with him. He would cut a deal or make an arrangement and it was my job to the see that through, bring that back with the leadership team, and the team and execute that so he could pull off.
James McKinney: All right, before we continue on I just want to ask you, The Startup Story listener, a question. How amazing would it be to learn directly from a founder of a $300+ million brand much like Eric did with the founder of Lids? It would be remarkable right? Well that is the experience and the knowledge sharing that is delivered to you each quarter when you become a Grindology member. Grindology is an entrepreneurial subscription box that ships every quarter full of resources to help fuel your grind and your hustle. So what is included in your Grindology shipment? Well each quarter you receive a box, the Grindology box, and inside that box are two bags of uniquely crafted coffee specifically roasted for you, the founder, hustler, entrepreneur, maker, and creator. And each shipment also includes an exclusive mug that speaks to the unique nature that is you, the entrepreneur.
Those things are remarkable and they are incredible, and man the coffee is so good. But the best thing, the arguably the most important thing, is that every single Grindology shipment will include a copy of the Grindology tactical manual. Every single issue of that manual will be chock full of real tactics from real business builders, not journalists. Founder direct, much like when Eric sat with the founder of Lids for all those years, he learned so much, that's what's inside this Grindology tactical manual. Within the pages of this we will be delivering you tactics and strategies you can integrate into your business immediately. How great would it be to receive real marketing funnel strategies from those who are doing it? Wouldn't it be helpful if a successful founder laid out specific user acquisition strategies they use to grow their business? Well, those are the types of tactics that will be found in each issue of Grindology. Like I said real tactics from real business builders.
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James McKinney: What makes The Startup Story unique is access to certain people, right, it's hearing the story, hearing the tactics. And here you are attached to a serial entrepreneur that has done multiple huge businesses and brands.
Eric Girouard: Right.
James McKinney: When you look back on that, and now we can start seeing, okay I can see how we start laying down some breadcrumbs to get to where we are with BRUNT Workwear. But when you look back to that season working with Ben, what are some key learnings that will just never leave you?
Eric Girouard: The key learning was I took a huge pay cut. When I left EMC they countered and gave me a huge package to stay, and I left like lots of money on the table. That made all the difference. If I let the money make that decision I wouldn't be where I am today, and I'd still be selling software basically, which by the way is a great career. But the lesson I learned, and I was 23 at the time when I joined him. So if you're young enough and you don't have a family, don't have a house and you can afford to, take either a massive pay cut and work for free, find the right person that you want to learn from and whatever it takes. Free, discount, the experience that I got, a front row seat sitting alongside a serial entrepreneur who has built massive companies in every single meeting he was a part of, investor meetings, acquisition conversations, everything was like-
James McKinney: That's incredible.
Eric Girouard: … it was an intense MBA in ecommerce. And I knew nothing about that going in. I knew nothing about ecommerce, I knew nothing about building a brand, I knew nothing about building a company. And over those three years I literally I did whatever. I wasn't his executive assistant. He had an executive assistant but my mentality was one, I need to learn as much from this person as possible and if I do a good job there's big opportunities ahead of me. And two, I need to make his life as easy as possible because that shows my value. So I would do whatever it was to help him stay focused on the core business, and I would try to take as much off of his plate and do as much of the work as possible. Crafting, building decks and things of that nature, and then having him bless them. So that was really it. The big lesson is if you find someone that is in the space, figure out whatever it takes to be able to work for them, and then make sure you're providing enough value for them to keep you around.
James McKinney: Yeah, yeah. I mean I just think the idea of sitting with him… Man, you were a part of capital discussions right? You would have had learnings from that. Logistics and operations, the sourcing side of conversations. You mention acquisitions, my goodness the value in sitting in those discussions and learning how the negotiation process works, and how to just work the nuance of seeking an acquisition. There's so much that you probably learned in that period that I think would probably take up an entirely other episode and maybe we'll have to have you back for a 2.0 to just unpack the learnings of sitting with him. But you're not there now, so as rich as that opportunity was what drew you away from that opportunity?
Eric Girouard: Well so we went through another transaction, so the business was simultaneous transaction. Rue La La was bought by EBay for 24 hours and then it was simultaneously bought back by our chairman at the time. So after that transaction happened the business was built. The new owner, no major opportunity or outcome left basically, so a lot of the leadership team parted ways, was moving on. Ben's a serial entrepreneur, he wanted to start a new company. I couldn't work with him for a period of time so we all parted ways for about a year, and I just basically stayed afloat during that year knowing I eventually wanted to work with him, and ended up coming back and joining him under this umbrella called Launch which is a venture builder. It was his thesis. He didn't want to be just an investor after selling Rue La La, he wanted to actually continue to build businesses and it was kind of this model. So I knew I didn't have enough experience at that point yet to start… I probably could have, but I wasn't confident enough and I didn't have enough skill sets, and I didn't have leadership skills and managing skills yet. That was important for me. People were like, "Why didn't you do it earlier?" And it's like I wasn't ready yet to do it, and maybe I could have but I wasn't.
James McKinney: Let me pause on that real quick, that readiness. I think a lot of times in the entrepreneurial journey we're waiting for a perfect season, or there's some metric we're looking for to say this is the time in which I am ready. Was it only just the leadership side of readiness that you were looking for? Or was there really some idea, because again I don't know if there was any financial benefit for the sale of Rue La La for you, but maybe was there a financial security you were looking for? What was the pause in moving forward on something?
Eric Girouard: So when I joined Rue La La it was already around $200 million and when we left it was about $550 million so I saw a mid stage growth company for that size business. I had never seen starting something from scratch. I missed that, and that's a different game.
James McKinney: Yes.
Eric Girouard: So it was one I wanted to see that. The good news is sitting there first hand seeing it, I can replicate those things but if I don't see it it's really hard. I can't read a book and then go do it, I need to see it. So I knew I wanted to see that early stage, and so that's where when I went to Launch I knew I was going to see that. I had never managed people directly reporting to me. I was high up in a big organization, but I was a proxy. I didn't have direct staff. So those were the two things that I knew I needed to learn. Wasn't sure if I could do them, wasn't sure if I couldn't do them but needed to learn and so that's why I ended up going over to Launch and had a front row seat at a couple businesses.
James McKinney: That's incredible. So one I applaud you for your patience because I think a lot of times in the entrepreneur, I've heard stories of people leaving financially lucrative careers because they have a great idea on a napkin and they're like, "I'm out, I'm all in." It's like oh, there's so many steps before you need to do that. And here you are young and I assume the financial burden of life hasn't quite laid on top of your shoulders yet with the mortgage and the spouse and all that.
Eric Girouard: Correct.
James McKinney: I applaud you for your patience, especially given the you talked about before the diagnosed untreated ADD. I assume the idea of just constantly jumping and looking for the next new thing, and yet you stayed the course and saw the opportunity and learning opportunities, and I love every bit about that. So what at launch, and all of this is starting to come together now as to why I can see such a varied batch of experience in startups and it's really probably because of your time with Launch. First off, what was the business model of Launch because you said venture builder, but in my mind I looked at it and thought okay Launch is probably an incubator. It sounds like it but the term "venture builder" was a very intentional term used, so what was the model behind Launch?
Eric Girouard: It's very intentional. So incubators, the typical incubator model is give 100 companies $50,000 or $100,000, hopefully one of them or two of them end up becoming the next WeWork or Airbnb. The other 98 don't work out but that's fine, you only need one or two winners. You let those people, those entrepreneurs, build those companies on their own. Launch was very we only had, well the first year we only had one business and the leadership team that a lot of the folks that had been at Rue La La before were all working on the business. So it was putting very experienced folks who have done this before intentionally behind a business versus just deploying capital and letting someone else run it. So truly building them from scratch and operating them very intensely. Not checking in every couple weeks, not "Hey how are you doing over there?" you know. So that was Launch's model early on and has been.
James McKinney: So what brands did you get to be a part of at launch?
Eric Girouard: The first business that Launch had started was M.Gemi and I had no interest in getting into the luxury, direct to consumer at the time, luxury shoe business but it was about a week before it was about to launch and the marketing was not completely set up by any means, and so I kind of get asked, "Hey can you step in and help fix, and help build some of this marketing stuff?" And I was kind of hemming and hawing, I don't want to get stuck in this, I want to work on a new company that I'm interested in, and ended up going in, getting some of the piping and plumbing installed in the marketing world so to speak. Was a good soldier, you know, helping keep this thing going, and then I was done. I did my duties, they built out there was a CMO there, they started to hire the people. I was going to go back to Launch and start to work on a business and Ben approached me and said, "Hey listen, this is a women's only business. I know you have no interest in it, but would you be interest in launching the men's version of M.Gemi?"
So I said that's an interesting opportunity, I'll get to run my own P&L within a bigger company, hire my own folks, that'll be a good step, and fill some of those voids. So I took that and did that for about two years. So I jumped in to M.Gemi full time to run the men's division. spent about a year traveling over in Italy and all the factories, the men's shoes, building the brand. We were going to name it a new brand so we were really building a whole new company and at the last minute we decided actually put it together, which was the right decision. Then spent about a year running that business and got it up and running. Got it to a few million bucks and was great, but I knew I didn't want to be a merchant essentially for the rest of my career, which the person to run that division and business you really need to be like a shoe merchant.
James McKinney: got it, okay.
Eric Girouard: And I could have continued on, it just it was going to set me down a different path.
James McKinney: Got it. So what was your next step after that? And this is all within Launch, mind you. These steps are all within Launch.
Eric Girouard: Yeah, that was two years. So then I went back to Launch and the goal was to look at what's the new business, new business opportunity, so I was literally just diligencing inbound stuff and outbound stuff.
James McKinney: I just picture this whiteboard of just business ideas that Ben and the team are kind of percolating, and so you come in, you check in, you're like, "Okay, I'm done with that. What's next on that is whiteboard that we can build out?" Is that really, that's what it feels like.
Eric Girouard: We were going through in the first two years, we were looking at about 120 different business plans a year. We had a lot of inbound , too. People would come to us, "Hey I don't have the ability to start but you do." We would look at inbound but also create our own where we thought the opportunity was. So it was high volume, high intensity and the goal was prove why they won't work. And the ones that end up making it through all the hole poking probably have a pretty good chance, and bringing in big time investors and having them poke holes and why that won't work, and all that stuff. So yeah, so I went back to Launch, like what's the… I want to be, what's the next business, and that's where the opportunity for Trade Coffee had come up. I had picked up an inbound string from a large investment firm known as JB Holdings. We never heard of them, kind of a big private company and they own everything in the coffee world basically from Peet's and Caribou, Einstein Bagels, and a lot more. They're just insanely large. I knew nothing about coffee. Literally I drank Dunkin Donuts every single day and that was about as much as I knew, and I have a Keurig and drink Keurig so that was kind of funny. So that was a completely different one.
They had an idea that hey, the future of coffee is online and we have no idea what that means. We own a lot of the market, like literally market share large percentage of coffee market. We know you guys know how to build businesses, let's talk. And that started the relationship. And so for almost a year I sat in the corner of an office in Boston, we had this cool open space, and was twisting and turning like what's the opportunity for this coffee market? And do we… we had two strategies, one was do we be the everything for coffee like the Amazon of coffee but from low end Dunkin Donuts to super high end and everything in between and we're top to bottom?
And then the other strategy was going after the craft space which you know well. All these roasters were popping up and we were seeing them and it was following a little bit of the trend like microbrews had happened over the prior 10 years. Brands were really strong, brands were really important, and there was a lot. We knew nothing so we had immersion into coffee. We flew out to Peet's headquarters, met the original founder of Starbucks Jerry Baldwin. A lot of people don't realize there were three founders originally and he was on the board of Peet's. We did cuppings and all this crazy coffee stuff, which is really coffee nerd speak sort of. We got pretty deep into coffee. Even though even today I'm still not a coffee aficionado by any means it helped us understand the market. And then that was that. Business plan turned into we started to build out the team, and then started to hire some executives. We actually found them in New York city and so the company ended up being based in New York City. We all lived in Boston but essentially that was going to be home base for it, and so that was my path in Launch.
James McKinney: Interesting for those that don't know what Trade Coffee is. Trade Coffee is not a coffee brand, they are a brand that delivers unique coffees that you probably wouldn't discover on your own is really what it is. So it's really a platform for unique coffee roasters, craft roasters, to reach their consumers. And when you look at your personal journey across the many different ventures from Rue La La to M.Gemi, within M.Gemi the men's line, and now Trade, up to that point you were brand building a specific brand of the product. Maybe not Rue La La because that's really a retail but M.Gemi for sure single brand building. Now you're looking at a business model where you're not building a single brand.
Eric Girouard: Correct.
James McKinney: Based on your experience, based on the conversations taking place, why did that make sense? Because what you hear so often is that the brand is the equity, and the IP, and the opportunity. The brand, brand, brand. But really it's a platform of discovery is what it is.
Eric Girouard: Yep, exactly, it is a brand to some degree but it is a marketplace business. It was the first time, very different model, marketplace business. And it evolved that way kind of naturally as we were doing what's the best model to go into the market. I would have loved to create our own brand, you know as the Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia of the world, but it was the opportunity there, those businesses were already getting bought and sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. It was the business opportunity that drove us to the model so that's why we ended up going into that. Fast forward, the reason I decided to leave that business to now start BRUNT is I wasn't suited for workplace business. I built the supply chain. I was there for two years, I flew around the country, signed all the roasters up. Came back and did marketing, but it is a marketplace business is such a different animal and requires such a different skill set, and I quite frankly wasn't excited about it or interested in it. I was excited about building it, like I loved building it and flying around, and building the supply chain and then early on testing some of the marketing. But it is a very operationally intensive business and it took us a while to find the right CEO to put into that business, and we found the exact right one. Incredibly operationally tight, the reason that business works is how tight it is run and operated in a marketplace model. There is a brand there but that's not what drives the business, it is a performance operational engine and that's not how I'm built. That' snot how I'm designed, that's not how I think, and I would be the worst person to ever run that type of company.
James McKinney: For those listening though, they're hearing this and they're probably thinking okay if they're aware of Trade and they understand the model, they understand why we're calling it a marketplace. If they're not aware they at least understand the idea of a marketplace. For those who aren't familiar with it think of an Etsy. You're thinking of a place where people are able to find, or think of Uncommon Goods as well, there's another brand that's a marketplace if you will. Can you help unpack what is it about a marketplace business that takes a unique skill set? Because from outside perspective you think okay, wow, it's almost like the Field of Dreams. I build a platform, vendors and people come to it, and I'm just getting a piece of the transaction if you will. What is it about a marketplace that is challenge that people aren't aware of?
Eric Girouard: Well especially a marketplace where the retail price points are anywhere from $15 to $25 or $30, eBay and things of that nature are different, you can sell high dollar items. But if you have a good margin business, low margin dollars. So every transaction you're only making so much money. So in a marketplace business you're not the brand, so you are having to get your product from someone. Then you're then having to resell it, so there's a bunch of mouths to feed there. And the only way, marketplaces generally work when they get huge so they have to be very big business. So running a $5 million or $10 million marketplace is very hard to do, and run it profitably because you have to get them big. So eBay or even Amazon, all these things when they get big they work, scale. And to get to that big point the big stage, which Trade is on its way, you have to be incredibly operationally efficient at building a business like maniacal. Real good operator, real good financial control, all that stuff, and even then it might not work. So it's just a different skill set that I am not built for, and never will be. That's not my DNA. I can do brand marketing and I can go create buzz and excitement, but in a marketplace that doesn't always translate to customers and retention, and churn, and all that stuff.
James McKinney: I love that, and right now I want to make sure that we spend a significant amount of time talking about BRUNT Workwear because we can now see how BRUNT Workwear is kind of the amalgamation of your entire journey, and seen both sides and you've assessed your skill set. You've learned a ton in all those different brands. And is it safe to say that your departure from trade was because of a vision you had for BRUNT Workwear?
Eric Girouard: Yep, exactly. So I knew after Trade I was ready to start my own company. Hands down I had the experience. Trade was I helped build a company that I wasn't even in the space, so I was like okay if I can do that then I can do it in something I actually care about, and am passionate about. Yep, so that was the plan. It was great because the CEO had come on board. The team was building out and I stayed on to make sure everything transitioned over very smoothly. I knew I wanted to build a business that I was incredibly passionate about because I had been building businesses the prior years that were good business opportunities but I didn't love the categories so to speak. I didn't love coffee or Italian luxury shoes. I got into them because I was excited, but it wasn't like my passion.
James McKinney: I want to tee up for my listeners real quick how funny that sentence was because when you find out what BRUNT Workwear is to come off that "I wasn't passionate about coffee and Italian luxury shoes" so when you find out how polar opposite BRUNT Workwear is it is so fascinating to know now exactly what you're wired for. But coming off of really the polar opposite. It couldn't be any farther from what BRUNT Workwear is.
Eric Girouard: Exactly, exactly. So took some time to figure out exactly what I was going to do. I had the idea for BRUNT Workwear five years prior but I put it on the shelf because I knew I wasn't ready, and I also didn't think I could reach the customer base, and I didn't know enough about the market. It was when I was running M.Gemi Men's but I kind of packed it in the back of my mind. So I ended up leaving Trade and started working on my business plan for BRUNT Workwear, and the thesis was so my best friends to this day are my buddies from high school that I did landscaping with and roofing with, and I still go home and see them or they come up and see me. We got ATV'ing and all this stuff. They always say, "Why don't you, you're always building these fancy businesses, coffee and… why don't you build a business for us?" And so two things struck a chord when they said that and it was one, that's what I'm passionate about. These are my buddies, I care about that, that's how I grew up. And then two was the market for guys like them is so massive. We're building these luxury businesses in Italian fashion, and for the 1% of the 1% of the 1%. And the coffee we're selling is by no means in the supermarket aisle. And I just knew the majority of the country are like how me and my buddies grew up, not buying $250 luxury shoes and $25 bags of coffee. So that was it, no research, no nothing but that was the idea to get the idea started. And I started talking to Launch and pitching , just talking to some investors and the investment world is very… they are the 1% of the 1% of the 1%, and so to grasp this customer base and the concept that I was developing was very hard. People didn't think it was possible, didn't think the market was there. There was a lot of unknowns because my buddies weren't their buddies, and vice versa. They didn't grow up like I grew up and so it was hard at first.
James McKinney: I want to pause you real quick there. One of the things that you had mentioned like when you had talked about your buddies when are you going to build a brand for us, I'm so big on words. I'm so big on how the brain and the heart connect for what comes out of our mouth, and they used the phrase "us" that tells me that they see a distinction between their consumer patterns and what the consumer patterns of those you were building. Can you help unpack the persona of the "us" and really what drove you to starting BRUNT? What is this persona of "us" that doesn't connect with the others?
Eric Girouard: That was like the biggest unlock, right, and so these guys from an entrepreneur perspective and from a venture capital perspective, often overlooked and underserved because the category isn't as "sexy" as fashion or whatever it may be. For them, for us, and it's funny because it's a lifestyle. So it's waking up five or six days a week very early in the morning, lacing up your work boots, putting on your work gear, getting in a truck, going to work, working 10-12 hours a day, mostly standing on your feet. Making a very good living, especially at a young age, not going to college but going right into the trades so no debt. Buying a house relatively early right where I couldn't, I had college debt and all these things. Being able to support a family. Work hard but support a family living like a really solid, hard earned, proud lifestyle and then that lifestyle bleeds into the weekend and that doesn't change.
It's not just a 9 to 5, Monday thru Friday and then all of the sudden you go into the weekend and you're changing. You're working on your house, you're working on your truck, you're taking care of your family, you're taking care… I call it the backbone of the country. It's the people that are doing the work that are keeping the infrastructure going, keeping the buildings going, keeping everything around us that sometimes is easy to take for granted. It's keeping everything moving in good times and in bad times. So when they say that, that's who they identify as. They think of themselves that way, and there's a little bit of like who's looking out for us, who's watching out for us. Especially they saw what I was doing, you're spending all this energy building these luxury businesses. Imagine you put that energy into building a business for us.
James McKinney: You know you had to pitch this idea. And again real quick before we continue on, tell my listeners what BRUNT Workwear is as we continue this conversation.
Eric Girouard: Yep, yep. So BRUNT Workwear, so the thesis for the business is there hasn't been a modern workwear brand in the category in decades if not more. All the workwear brands, so you think of workwear brands like the Carhartt's and the Timberlands and the Red Wings of the world. They're all 100 year old brands. They trade on heritage and they've been around forever. The high level thesis is I wanted to build a modern brand that resonated with the modern construction customer and trades worker, who are all my buddies and my dad and all these folks. And the customer base, there's two groups. There's the group that's aging out of that career but there's the up and coming crew which are my buddies and younger. I wanted to create a brand that resonated with them that was incredibly authentic, spoke to them, understood them, took care of them, delivered not only the products but the services and the solutions in a modern way that those other companies will never be able to do because they're so big and old.
James McKinney: You had to pitch this to numerous investors for seed capital so you know some data points around these people. And again having had, I don't know over 100 founders on the show I don't have a founder who is serving I'm going to say blue collar America.
Eric Girouard: Yep, yep.
James McKinney: That's not the segment that most of them are serving.
Eric Girouard: Correct.
James McKinney: So what is it about, give me some stats on this demographic because again venture capital, it's a great story, it's a great population that needs to be served but they care a lot about numbers and metrics. How big is this marketplace? What are their buying patterns? Are they the ones buying the $90,000 boats on the weekend? What is it about this persona, what are some data points you can share with us?
Eric Girouard: So globally 22 million folks so it's a massive market. US alone is about 13 million folks that fit into the category, and that's if you're looking at like Bureau of Labor Statistics data which classifies jobs in blue collar and white collar, all that stuff. So huge market and a blue collar job essentially makes up 13.9% of all the jobs in the country, so depending on some people say that's a small market, some people… but the number is massive. It's a really large market so investors like big markets. The problem with big markets are the biggest thing with them is there's incumbents, and how are you going to disrupt… Where I see I'm like it's easy. You can build a brand, it's really easy to disrupt it, they see the opposite which is how are you going to disrupt these companies that have heritage, hundreds of years, much more capital, much more learnings, much more expertise. And so very big market which can help but also raises a lot of questions.
James McKinney: Are their buying patterns different from how they acquire, again not knowing the work boot space, the workwear space if you will, are the buying patterns different? Is it something that they have to go into a store in order to try on or is it something that they trust online with?
Eric Girouard: Yeah so that was a big question. so buying patterns are definitely different unlike the fashion business where someone buys a pair of shoes they'll have it for five or 10 years. This product is literally, it's the tools they wear right? So it is a disposable product that is not a discretionary purchase so they have to buy these products to do their job. They go through them at a relatively rapid pace. Typically two pairs of work boots a year, a couple pairs of pants. These are products that they're tools, they're not fashion items, they're not discretionary. So there is a very unique purchasing pattern for these items, and then the big question is online and store, and that was the big uncovering was the heritage brands that are traditionally retail store and typically going after the businesses were built on the older demographic. Like my dad's demographic now in the 50s and 60s and 70s, but I believed I could get this younger customer who is more savvy online, and an online shopper and trusting and all that stuff. So that was a little bit of a big question that is proving itself out true.
James McKinney: Now are you finding those who adopt the online buying of workwear to be of a certain age demographic, on the younger side versus those that are aging out into retirement?
Eric Girouard: It generally is, so the data proves that though we have customers, we have much older customers and much younger customers. We have young teenagers who are like me, starting out at 14 or 15 who are buying our product, and we have people in their 70s that have been buying our product. So it runs the gamut but it is definitely that 25 to 35 year old is the sweet spot.
James McKinney: That's incredible. What has been the biggest surprise for you, once you've gotten launch, we're going to unpack a little bit of your pre launch story but once you've launched what was the biggest surprise in the first year for you, whether it be on the operations side, whether it be on the consumer purchasing side, the product itself? What just really surprised you based on your going in thesis?
Eric Girouard: The biggest surprise was how well the brand was received so quickly. I was expecting, you know brands take a long time to develop and time for customers to get into the market. We had done so much work on building the brand and I knew the customer better than anyone in the market. It's literally my buddies were in the research sessions with this big firm that we can talk about. We had done so much work on the brand. BRUNT, the name, bearing the brunt of the work day, all this stuff. And we had modeled the business pretty conservatively but we expected it to be a slower growth and the brand would take a few years to build. And the brand was so strong, it's like people want anything we put our name on. It's dangerous because we could put it on anything and they'll buy it, but we've got to control what BRUNT stands for and what BRUNT means. It's easy to slap a logo on a lot of things because people want it. And so I was incredibly surprised at how fast and how strong the brand was adopted by the exact target customer we were going after, because I just thought it was going to take longer to build.
James McKinney: That's incredible. Your slogan - "The tools you wear" - was that intentional? Do you only want to stay in apparel or now you've built the brand you're thinking that might be somewhat limiting?
Eric Girouard: So "The tools you wear" is incredibly intentional and the reason so is it had come up, so when we did customer research, we did qualitative and quantitative. So qualitative is talking, literally phone calls with my buddies and my friends, and people that we didn't know across the country in different pockets. Talking to them, hearing threads. You do quantitative to high scale, research surveys that validate the data. In the qualitative research that line came up multiple lines. "Do you care about how your boots look?" "No, you know, I don't." they do but they say they don't. "No, they're tools I wear. I need them to do their job. I don't clean them. I take them off at the end of the day, I'm going to replace them, they're tools I wear. They're not fashion items." That came up multiple times. It just was like such a dead smack, and the good news is "The tools you wear" is everything from head to toe. It's a lot of options, not too limiting, and the key there is we're not going to get into real tools. I don't picture us making a hammer or things of that nature because that's a hardware business, that's a tool business. But things that make these workers lives easier on a daily basis, that is something that they wear, is open field. So head to toe. And then there's you think of, we're not going to go into all these categories but you walk into any of these stores it's everything from boots to socks to pants, to accessories, to hats, to hard hats, tool belts. I'm not sure if that one is on the fringe there but the categories that we can go into under "the tools you wear" there's probably of the whole market a $35 billion market, that's probably $10-15 billion of market, not that you get the whole market.
James McKinney: Yeah, wow. That's incredible. Absolutely incredible. So when you had this idea, now back to the beginning stages of BRUNT Workwear, so when you had this idea and you're pitching it to the team at Launch, what was some of the pushback that you received if any? Because again the marketplace, the demographic is not one that people think of serving when it comes to the startup community.
Eric Girouard: First and foremost was brand loyalty to these 100 year old incumbents. Why would anyone ever leave trusted, tried and true, father wore it, grandfather wore it, they're not leaving it heritage brand? That was a big, big question mark which is a good question, how are you going to disrupt. So that I had to work through which was very critical, very important, and we still didn't know if that was possible until the day we launched the brand. So that was push back. Two is the customer going to shop online? Which we already hit on, but that was very important, or do they need to try it on. How are they going to buy work boots online and all that stuff, and we built strategies and tools around that to solve that exact issue. And then three a lot of these investors think of one time customer transactions and so thinking about LTV, lifetime value, if you build a brand all that stuff. So they think you buy a pair of work boots in their world that will last them five or 10 years, and so having to explain how this customer actually uses the product is very different than when they buy a pair of BRUNT work boots. If they buy their BRUNT work boots they will have them 10 years from now. Our core customer that buys our work boots, they'll be getting another pair by the end of the year and that's normal course for them.
James McKinney: That's incredible, absolutely love it. What about inventory though? When I think of what you're trying to do, again when I first came across BRUNT Workwear for a potential episode of The Startup Story some of the challenges I kept thinking through was oh my goodness, the inventory complexity must have been so challenging. Now knowing a little bit how your M. Gemi story may parlay into this as well as all the conversations you had alongside Ben Fisher, but how much capital did it take to start BRUNT Workwear? And then two, how challenging was your first product or did you launch with one SKU, did you have multiple SKUs? How did you get to all those decision points?
Eric Girouard: My thesis for the business was I wanted to build it incredibly lean. In startups, there's one extreme is bootstrapping and the other extreme is you can raise tens of millions of dollars and build big infrastructure, and I've seen those go sideways more often than not. I wanted to at least build the business to get product market fit first before I scaled it, versus going in with, "Hey, if we don't hit product market fit we're in trouble." And so that was kind of my thesis of I wanted to build it right, I wanted to take the right time, really invest in the brand versus having to move at lightning speed and make quick decisions and short change a lot of things. So that was kind of my overall thesis to build BRUNT Workwear, which is different than most venture backed businesses definitely of the past 10 years, and still more common today.
So didn't raise an enormous amount of capital to get the business started. Had a couple close parties that after probably six months of pitching and all that stuff that ended up investing in the business, and over the past two years until we got to Launch. That was the whole thesis was get it to Launch, see the receptivity, where that is. So that was kind of my thesis, my strategy of how to operate the business. And then when it came to the inventory complexity, the work boot market is massive. There are 200 different, if you really want to cater to every single niche within the industry there's an incredible amount of SKUs. There's specific boots for specific jobs that a lot of these heritage brands make. If you're not in that specific job you would never buy that boot. So I knew I couldn't do that because I would have needed millions of dollars to pull that off. Through the research and through data, and analyzing competitors and reviews and all that stuff, ended up coming up with what I believed was the tightest assortment to cater to as large a group of the country as possible, knowing that I wasn't serving every single one to start, but as we get bigger I will continue to expand.
In a perfect world I would have had one work boot. The dream, the away, travel and all that stuff that would have been the dream. One product that you can sell all day long, but I knew that there's variations of safety toe, non safety toe, tall, eight inch for water proofing, and short. So I had to have enough assortment to be able to build a big enough business but I couldn't get it all in one. But also didn't want to require the amount of capital to build out a large line. So that was being very disciplined. It's very easy to build a large SKU count and assortment, very hard to build a small SKU count and stay very disciplined. We have one color way in each of our boots. Very easy to put five colors out there and see what sticks. The whole takeaway from all that was from capital to inventory to planning was really discipline. I've seen that work for people and I've seen people that don't have the discipline. I've also seen it go very poorly.
James McKinney: Yeah. Now that you are building something on your own from ground zero, when you look back at the various opportunities you've had what would be three significant differences? And it could be any number, I arbitrarily threw out three. What are some key differences that you see in this chapter of your entrepreneurial journey versus everything else you've done?
Eric Girouard: So number one was believing in the idea even though like the first 20 people I talked to said it was a terrible idea, and still going on. Because early in my career I didn't have the confidence or the wherewithal to think I could… if someone told me that, believing in the idea, the opportunity, and the brand, and myself full stop. Early on we sat down with the big CEO of a company in this space. I pitched the idea in front of a bunch of other investors and he literally was like, "This is the worst idea I've ever heard," and it didn't change my opinion at all. I was like he's wrong and I'm going to show him. I never had that before. I never had the no one is going to change my mind that this is a huge opportunity, so that was different. Before I had a lot of people would impact or influence my confidence in all that stuff, and so that's far and away number one.
Number two is especially when I was by myself, I did this for about a year before I even had a cofounder and a bunch of folks, is doing everything solely. Investors, presentations, pitching, all that stuff to working with a branding agency and tweaking the littlest things from a brand perspective, to working with designers on the boots. Full spectrum, top to bottom, the highest of highs, the lowest of lows. That is really the second big difference here, where before we had big teams.
James McKinney: I love it, absolutely love it. Where do you see BRUNT Workwear if we're having a where are they now episode in let's say five years, what do you see with BRUNT Workwear?
Eric Girouard: So I want to be known as, the goal right, it is the modern workwear brand that has listened to the customers, made products, solutions, and services that cater to their lifestyle, and take care of them at scale. The reason I like disruption and that's a coin term, but these big brands are so big, they're huge, they're 100 years old. They need to cost engineer their products to get more money out of them. My belief is over time, and my investors wouldn't love this, but if I scale and get cost savings I actually want to pass that off to the customer. I don't want to build this to be just a… of course capitalistic, have venture investors and all that stuff, but I know that if we take good care of the customer in all capacities they're going to take care of the brand and vice versa. So five years from now it's truly have disrupted the entire category and are the brand that not only the target customer going after but much older and much younger are just in love with, just because we take care of the customer so well.
James McKinney: You know it's interesting as you were sharing that segment right there, what you see in five years and the brand affinity that you want and that you have for your customer, but that you want your customer to have for BRUNT, I was starting to think through a couple brands. Again as an outsider from your demographic, I started thinking through some of the brands that they probably have that type of affinity and loyalty with, so I wanted to shoot out some brands and you tell me if you think my understanding of that type of affinity you're seeking is accurate. Yeti.
Eric Girouard: 100%, that's the number one.
James McKinney: Yeah. Again I'm thinking through the ads that I see that try to speak to it. Budweiser.
Eric Girouard: Yep, yep.
James McKinney: Even though it's garbage beer for all those listening.
Eric Girouard: Bud Light, but yeah.
James McKinney: Bud Light, yeah. Again even for those listening it's garbage beer, just for the record.
Eric Girouard: Yep.
James McKinney: But what are some other brands? Those are the ones that come to mind. What are some other brands? Dickies, is that… Carhartt? Are those two of them?
Eric Girouard: Nope.
James McKinney: No? Like what are some other ones that they have a loyalty and affinity for?
Eric Girouard: Chevy, Ford. Snap-on Tools. Tool brands, so Milwaukee very for certain brands, Milwaukee for example is a hot brand in the space. Incredible affinity for that brand. So what 's funny is you think about a lot of my buddies, you see these brands in tattoos. You see Yeti tattoos.
James McKinney: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Eric Girouard: When start, your brand starts showing up as a tattoo you know you've got something.
James McKinney: No kidding, no kidding.
Eric Girouard: And you see Snap-on, you see a lot of tool brand tattoos, you see the truck brand tattoos, Yeti hands down. It's stuff that fits into their life. Think about that, they're getting up in the morning, they're putting on their clothes, but then they're getting into their truck, so the truck brand very important. They're spending a lot of their day in their truck. They then have their Yeti cooler, their Yeti lunch box that after work or whatever it may be, it's brands that fit into their lifestyle and serve a meaningful purpose. And the tool brands because they're using the tools at work.
James McKinney: I love it, I love it. Just in this conversation I can see how underserved this market, one how misunderstood this market is because I mean when you think of loyalty that is the demographic, they are loyal. Tattoos for crying out loud! No one's getting a Kylie Jenner tattoo on their forearm because of her makeup or whatever. When you think of all the brands, Nike, Nike is a tattoo you'll see people get.
Eric Girouard: Yep, yep.
James McKinney: When you think of all the brands, what a great metric. Again would they tattoo it? And I could see BRUNT tattoos, I'm not going to lie. I could see it in the future.
Eric Girouard: I don't think we're too far away at this point.
James McKinney: I love it, I love it. Unfortunately we could be going for much longer because I'm just fascinate at this demographic, the story, how BRUNT wants to serve them, but I want to honor your time as well as my listener's time. So when it comes to final three questions for every Startup Story, the first one is about the idea of entrepreneurship. You've seen a lot of different angles of entrepreneurship as well as a life outside of entrepreneurship. Even within your customer persona. So when you think of the idea of entrepreneurship as you understand it, do you believe anybody can be an entrepreneur? Not that they want to be because not everyone wants to be, but do you believe anybody can be an entrepreneur or is it something you're born with?
Eric Girouard: I believe anyone can be an entrepreneur if they genuinely want to do it and be it. Until I met Ben and worked for him, I wasn't the most creative person. I didn't know a lot of these things but it's been I put in 10 years and I kind of learned. I had the things when I was young, Pogs and stuff like that, but that's small time and so I learned it. I wanted it and I surrounded myself with the people that could turn me into it essentially, so I think I'm an example of it worked. So I do believe. The difference is everyone thinks it's a sexy term and all this stuff. It is 24/7, 365 and if it's not then it's likely not going to work and it's really you want to be an entrepreneur but you don't want to be an entrepreneur. That's the biggest thing is I do, I actually do think. And by the way maybe some people don't have the skill set or the capability or the capacity to do it, but generally if you wanted it bad enough I think you could make it work. A lot of folks aren't willing to make the sacrifice that it's going to take.
James McKinney: You know Mike Tyson, I think it's Mike Tyson who has a quote everyone wants to be a boxer until you get punched in the face.
Eric Girouard: Exactly, exactly. I wake up almost every morning and I get punched in the face. When I read my email I get a punch in the face. After I get my coffee I get another punch in the face, and then before noon I get another punch in the face.
James McKinney: Oh, I love it. That's entrepreneurship for you. So the other part of entrepreneurship is this breaking down this persona, and that's why The Startup Story was created, this idea that entrepreneurship is a solo journey. The headlines espouse it that it's a matter of you sleeping on your buddies couch with a laptop and all of the sudden you're building out the next Airbnb, and it's just great fortune if you will. But what those who have been a part of it know is that it's not a solo journey. There are shoulders we have stood upon to get to where we are today. And so when you look back across your entire life's journey who are the people you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to where you are today?
Eric Girouard: There's a few people. I mean there's across the spectrum, the big ones are when I was in high school I had a track coach. So somewhere in my grades I was a very good runner and I didn't even like to run, I played soccer, but I would run to stay in shape for soccer. But I was the best 800 runner on our team. The problem that I faced was there was no one that could push me in practice because I would just… I was just a good runner and it's a long distance so not a lot of people like to do it. What I learned from her early on was she would scream at me in practice, "Why aren't you beating your times? Why aren't you beating your times?" I'm like I won. She's like, "Doesn't matter. You need to keep pushing." And so the big thing that taught me was you can't just try to beat the people or try to beat the market. It's you've got to actually push yourself to the extreme limit, because you've got more gas in the tank. And then eventually when I went on to states and all those things I wasn't winning anymore because those people were better. I was practicing to beat the people around me, not to… so pushing way beyond your limits, that was very eye opening for me.
And then I'd say the second was just the opportunity that Ben Fishman at Rue La La gave me. He was patient. I knew nothing. Could have been a rocky road and just giving me a seat at the table and allowing me to prove myself that made all the difference, so that was very important.
James McKinney: I love it.
Eric Girouard: And then the other was so when I was young, so my dad, I used to play little league. I was really tiny so I was young for my grade. So when I was in little league my first season I struck out or got walked. I would not swing the bat at all, I was terrified of the pitchers. I was tiny, I weighed like 90 lbs and my dad said to me, he says, "You can't hit the ball if you don't swing the bat," which was like crazy right to connect that dot. So then the next year I got a little bit bigger, and then I swung, and then I hit a grand slam to start the season off. That carries with me today as like you can't hit a home run if you don't even take a swing with the bat. I think about that a lot.
James McKinney: I love it. Oh man, if I had to trim the episode to 20 minutes, and my listeners hear me say this often, that question would never go away because people need to understand if you're doing this in a vacuum your percentage of burn out is higher than those who do it within community, who do it within connecting with others. So I love that I get to share that with listeners, that you need to be connecting with other people to be encouraged. Also too the business side, the bouncing off of ideas and the vetting of things, and the insight that your buddies gave to you. The "why aren't you building something for us" and so there's so much value about being in community.
If I could I would afford my listeners one on one times with all of our founders so they could just ask anything and everything that they have for their business, but I can't, that would be unreasonable. And so this last moment I like to have as a one on one moment with you and one of my listeners. And maybe the listener that resonates with you is the one who has been grinding at this for some time and just can't get any traction. Or maybe it's the entrepreneur who has a 9 to 5 and a book full of dreams and ideas but is hesitant and reluctant to move forward on something for whatever the case may be. Maybe they think it's because I have a mortgage and a spouse, I can't take that risk. Or maybe it's because they think they're 60 and they're too old. Whatever the case may be. Or maybe it's the entrepreneur who just lost everything because of COVID in 2020 and isn't quite sure if they have what it takes to get back up on the saddle again. Whoever it is you want to talk to, whatever one of those personas, what would you say to them if you were having coffee with them right now and they were just trying to get your guidance on how to move forward into their entrepreneurial journey?
Eric Girouard: So the biggest thing I'd say is you have to understand like you said whether you're in your sixties or you're in your teens, you have to understand where you are in your life cycle and your life cycle, and what risk you can afford to take and how you can afford to take it. Fifteen year old listener, you should be taking incredible amounts of risk. You don't have a mortgage, you don't have a family, you don't have a lot of t he things that as you start to get older become things that you need to sacrifice. And then vice versa, myself with wife, two kids, mortgage, all this stuff makes it less risky. You have to approach it very differently. And then even later in life you've got to approach it very differently. You have to look at where you are in your life and assess the amount of risk you can take, and then once you assess the amount of risk you can take which is maybe you can't just quit your job and start working on a startup. Maybe you actually have to come home at 5 o'clock and you actually have to work on it from 7 to 2. Until it gets some traction or big enough, or an investor says, "Hey, that's a good enough idea," and then that's your risk is all right I've got someone that's willing to invest in the business, and then you can quit. And so I think it's assessing the risk in what you can do, and number one wherever you are in your lifestyle. Everyone has different, everyone has challenges, limitations, so one is the risk.
Then it's what are the sacrifices that you're willing to make to make that happen. Are you willing to work seven days a week, 365, calls at midnight, calls at 6 a.m., jumping on planes, or do you really not want to do that? And does your family? My wife, I love her to death, give her credit, she deals with a pretty difficult human being which is my lifestyle. I'm up early, I'm up late, it's a sacrifice that we've both made for me to build BRUNT.
James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value that Eric Girouard 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. And lastly 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. So please visit bruntworkwear.com and share it with your network. We'll include a link in the show notes for easy access. But even better yet, if you know someone who would benefit from their workwear then introduce that person directly to BRUNT. Again, the URL is bruntworkwear.com and we'll include a link in the show notes. I say it in every episode because I believe it with my very being, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs so let's show up for Eric Girouard and BRUNT Workwear in a huge way as a way of saying thank you for all the value he delivered to us today. And now for my personal ask.
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