So, you have an idea for some disruptive piece of technology or some really cool product that has the potential to change the world forever. But, you’re not a developer, or you realize that you have zero experience in the category of that really cool product idea you have. Do you just scrap the idea and move on because you have absolutely ZERO domain experience? Of course not, but what should your next steps be? Well, in this episode of The Startup Story we sit with Melanie Travis, founder of Andie to unpack how she built a global brand swim brand without any textile experience whatsoever.
My guest this week is Melanie Travis founder and CEO of Andie. Andie is a brand created for every woman, every activity and every body with well-fitting swimwear and intimate in sizes 0 to 26. It’s designed for the modern woman, for all of life's occasions.
I first discovered this when looking for an appropriate swimsuit for my teenage daughter. Every single suit these days is super cheeky and yes and Andie does have those suits but they truly do have a swimsuit for every activity, body and coverage preference.
I love Andie’s story, I love how Melanie came to start Andie. But I’m not going to spoil it for you because she is a masterful storyteller and this episode is packed with some tremendous learnings!
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Melanie Travis: Hi, my name is Melanie Travis. I'm the founder and CEO of Andie, 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: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. Are you new to The Startup Story? Have you only just discovered the show recently? If so, man, am I pumped that you're here and I'm also so appreciative to have you along for the ride. I hope you subscribe to the show or follow the show if you use Spotify. You know, we have some amazing founders this past year, and I hope you'll take a look at all of those episodes we released. But also, our upcoming release schedule is also incredible. And it's showing no signs of slowing down so you will not want to miss a single episode. There are some amazing founder tactics coming your way.
And since I mentioned founder tactics, I guess I should ask, have you subscribed to Grindology yet? For those who may not know Grindology is a brand extension of the startup story that ships a tactical manual every quarter. Within the pages of Grindology we deliver founder direct resources that will help ease your grind and fuel your hustle. Every single issue of Grindology is chock full of real tactics from real business builders, not journalists. Within the pages of Grindology we will be delivering tactics and strategies that you can integrate into your business immediately.
Our current issue that is available right now is focused on content, and in this issue, you will receive proven tactics on how to leverage existing content that you've already created to drive new business and deliver new revenue. You will hear operational tactics that were used by a founder who saw nearly 400% growth in one year, and he attributes that growth to the tactics he shares in this issue. In our previous issue before the content issue, our Q1 issue, we had a SAS founder lay out exactly how he obtained his first 1,000 customers. And another founder talked about how he leveraged his video to increase sales and lead conversions. I'm telling you, founder direct tactics make all the difference in the world. And that is exactly what you will find in this issue and in every issue of Grindology. Like I said, real tactics from real business builders. And if you want to see what Grindology has to offer, then visit grindologymagazine.com and check out our digital version of either our Q1 or Q2 issue.
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My guest this week is Melanie Travis, founder and CEO of Andie. And if you've not heard of Andie, Andie is a brand created for every woman, every activity, and every body with well fitting swimwear and intimates in sizes zero to 26. It's designed for the modern woman and for all of life's occasions. I personally discovered Andie, and you're probably thinking, " James how possibly might you know about female swimwear?" Well, I discovered Andie because as a father to a teenage girl, it was impossible to find a swimsuit that I was okay with her wearing. Every single suit these days is super cheeky. And yes, Andie does have those suits, but they truly do have a swimsuit for every activity, body, and coverage preference. Now, aside from Andie meeting the need of this protective father, Andie has a really cool industry first fit quiz as well as one to one virtual fittings with their fit experts, and educational fit guides. I love Andie's story. I love how Melanie came to the idea of starting Andie, but I'm not going to spoil it for you because she is a masterful storyteller. I'm going to leave that to her. But part of what makes her story so great are all the various breadcrumbs of life that led her to where she is today. Breadcrumbs that truly started back in her very early childhood.
Melanie Travis: My parents do not have a typical 9 to 5 and never have, but they're not entrepreneurs either. They're in the art world. So my dad is an artist, So he makes his own schedule, in a way, I guess you'd say runs his own business as a photographer. And my mom is a curator at a museum in New York. So, you know, I grew up with parents who were very creative. Not really like a business or finance bone in their bodies. Maybe if they're listening, they would, they would contest that. So they're a bit mystified about where this comes from. Where this sort of like business savvy comes from, to build and scale a business with meaningful scale behind it.
But, you know, I grew up going to museums, and going to the Venice Biennale, I mean, travelling was a big part of growing up. And I think, ultimately, I don't know that like, the diversity of experiences that you grow up with sort of leaves you open to figuring out your own path, whatever that may be. And I the only thing I know for sure is that I never thought I would do a regular sort of 9 to 5. I didn't have any examples of that in my life, and I didn't know what I would do. And I certainly didn't think I'd become a swimwear magnate. But that's sort of like how I grew up and very, like creative and tinkering with things all the time. And I mean, if you see my background, I'm still an eager creative, but not in my day job.
James McKinney: I love it. So you know, being raised in the art world. And again, I apologize for using this cliche, but it's really all I know, when it comes to art. Like, there's this idea of starving artists, right? Like this idea that in the art world, you're not in it to make money. Much like a lot of people in ministry, the same thing, you're not in it to make money. And so did you see that life and that culture? One is the cliche true? And is it because of that cliche you're like, I don't know if I really want that for my life, either?
Melanie Travis: Oh, hard hitting questions. These are good. I mean, no… Well, I think I sort of just money was not really a motivating factor in thinking about what I wanted to do. And maybe that comes from the starving artists thing. They didn't care. And we were fine. Like, money was just not really a motivator. And I did actually start my path pursuing a sort of path in the arts, you could say. I actually went to film school for graduate school, for an MFA in film directing. And then I started down a path of making short films, which is different than you know, my father's in photography, and my mom is in contemporary painting. And so I was into film and I started down that path.
And I think, well I do think there's actually quite a lot that is similar between filmmaking and running a business being a director, where you're sort of like, you have to be able to tell a story, sort of sell a narrative to the to the folks who are going to work on bringing your vision to life, and sort of get that to a point where you share it. So I think there's a lot of parallels, but ultimately, I got the itch to do a business. I don't know, I don't think entrepreneurs should go into founding businesses if money is their motivating factor, because what is it like 99.9% fail. Sorry, not to be like a Debbie Downer, but like, it's, it's probably like safer ways to make money than, you know, throwing it all to the wind and starting a business.
James McKinney: So coming to the end of high school, it sounds like you wanted to be in filmmaking. So that was a known path that you wanted to go, and so you went you start your degree in that. What happens in college that you start thinking outside of filmmaking into whatever that may be?
Melanie Travis: So I'm going to correct a that path if that's okay.
James McKinney: Absolutely.
Melanie Travis: So I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school, and I went to a liberal arts college for undergraduate. So I went to Haverford College, outside Philly And I majored in comparative literature. And by the end of college, I was interested in film, but it was for grad school that I went to film school. In college, I floated around like we often do, and had absolutely no idea and ended up studying literature and that kind of thing. And then I graduated, and I moved to Europe for a year. Again, like grew up traveling extensively. I was actually born in Paris. I mean, I'm American, and moved here when I was very young and my father's American, but it just like, very international childhood.
And so moved to Europe. I sort of set up shop, whatever that means, in Vienna, which is sort of in Central Europe. And I did that so that I could travel easily to Eastern Europe and Western Europe. I wanted to really be on the road all the time. And I had a little camcorder and I was just making a lot of short films, and I really loved it. And I ended up sending in some examples of little shorts I made on the road in Bulgaria, you know, in Greece in Paris, to Cal Arts, California Institute of the Arts, and they accepted me into the filmmaking. So then I moved back to the United States to do that program.
James McKinney: So in your master's degree then, as you're pursuing to be a filmmaker, when do you start pivoting in your journey? Not necessarily to Andie, where ultimately we'll get to, but outside of filmmaking into business.
Melanie Travis: To fund my first film, I used a platform called Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform. It's based in New York, it's raised money from US fee and sort of bunch of venture investors. And I used it as a customer. I mean, I use it as creator, I used the platform and to raise money. And I discovered the platform in doing that, and well, what we'll maybe get to later, I ended up working at Kickstarter. And so I used Kickstarter to raise capital for my first film. Not a lot, maybe $10,000 to $20,000, not massive sums. Made a short film, enjoyed the experience, but was really sort of interested in what I had encountered at Kickstarter, and had gotten to know some people who worked there. And I reached out, I can't remember exactly what happened and said, "This seems like a really cool place to work. If that's, you know, something…"
Then eventually, it took years, I think maybe two years later, someone reached out and was like, and I had, by the way, no work experience. So they were like, "We're hiring a marketing coordinator. Are you interested in an entry level marketing position?" And I thought, sure, that seems cool. I was kind of getting a little bit... See the film world, it's just, it's really hard. It's hard to do anything. And like, you know, you've probably I mean, it's hard in any field really, especially in entrepreneurship. But I was ready to take a break and put it down for a little bit. And Kickstarter seemed perfect, because I was staying in the sort of art world and, and it was really at Kickstarter that I got this bug to start my own thing that was not a film and that I realized you could live at the intersection of different categories.
James McKinney: So what was it a Kickstarter? And again, we've had numerous founders on the show that have come through the Kickstarter channel or Indiegogo, one of the, by the way, crowdfunding. What was it being Kickstarter? Or was it just being around a bunch of startups and again, helping them with their funding campaigns, whatever the case may be that gave you the bug to say, I think I can start my own company?
Melanie Travis: Yeah. So what was it a Kickstarter? So at Kickstarter, we had a way of, on the marketing team, we had a way of speaking. And when you look at a platform, like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, there's sort of your creator community and your backer community, and backers are the folks that back the creators. At Kickstarter we started turning that on its head, and just saying, everyone is a creator. And some people, you know, creators can back other creators, but everyone is a creator. And it kind of like, I drank the Kool Aid, I guess. And I was like, I'm a creator, I'm a creator. And I also saw such a diversity of projects on the platform.
So it wasn't just film, or art, or mixed media. There were things like, I don't know, if you remember the Pebble watch, which was really popular back in the day. Like, there were real businesses that were sort of launching on Kickstarter. And it opened my eyes to this whole new part of the world where you could have a vision, and you could start thinking it didn't have to be a painting or a movie, it could be literally anything under the sun. And Andie was born as a Kickstarter project. So I did end up using the platform. Now here we are many years later, and it's very far from that. But that's sort of how that sparked it.
James McKinney: But was Andie again, I don't want to jump to the Andie chapter yet, but was Andie something that you created while at Kickstarter? Or was there another venture you started as you were getting that bug to create a business?
Melanie Travis: So I did not start at Kickstarter. After Kickstarter actually went and worked at another venture funded startup in New York, I went to a company called Bark, which is best known for BarkBox.
James McKinney: We had Matt Meeker on the show, probably about two months ago.
Melanie Travis: Matt was my old boss. And Matt is, well, the story of how I started Andie very much has to do with Matt. But yeah, so I went to Bark and I, you know, we talked a little bit about how I'm a pitbull, mom, and I'm generally obsessed with dogs, and I happened to have a dinner with the recruiter at BarkBox. I was very happy at Kickstarter, but I fell in love with the culture there and what they were doing and obviously, it's you know, Matt may have spoken about that just went public VS back a couple months ago. So really such an exciting ride. And so I actually left Kickstarter to go work at BarkBox because I thought, I love Kickstarter, I love the mission. I love what we're doing, but I love dogs and I want to work with dogs. The office, you know this is back in the office days, the office was like a dog Paradise. It was basically a dog park and how do you say no to that?
So then I went to Bark Box. And Bark, I mean, I don't know what Matt said, but it is a very entrepreneurial place. And Matt is, he is such an entrepreneur himself and is a sort of a serial entrepreneur and encourages that culture at BarkBox. And so the sort of bug that I first got at Kickstarter, I think really sort of developed in my time at Bark, and I started business arms there. Some worked, some have vastly failed or whatever went up in flames, which is fine. Matt was very supportive. And I learned a lot at Bark. And then finally from there I went to start Andie, which is the first business I've ever started and sort of accidentally became a lot more successful than I thought it would be.
James McKinney: So what was the catalyst while working at Bark? Again, an incredible culture. In part of Matt's episode he does share about how he loves for people to bring their ideas and concepts to the table to see what sticks and what doesn't stick. And he even mentioned there's been some outrageously horrible ideas that have been pitched to the team. But he loves that people try to bring their initiatives to the table. So it is a great place to work from what it sounds like. And again, hearing from you as well how entrepreneurial the culture was. So if you're at Kickstarter, and you have this itch to create something, because you're starting to drink the Kool Aid that everyone's a creator, you're at Bark now that allows you to bring ideas to the table and really become an intrapreneur, if you will, like launch businesses inside of something where it's not your capital that you're putting at risk. What took place in your life that said now I'm willing to put everything at risk and start a business on my own?
Melanie Travis: So what happened was summer of 2016, we were going on a retreat, the whole company, to a lake in upstate New York, as a lot of these venture funded companies often do. And I knew there would be a lot of swimming involved. And I thought, what kind of swimsuit do I wear with my CEO, Matt Meeker? It always comes full circle. And so I went out to look for a swimsuit for that work retreat with Bark. And I just, I didn't know what kind of swimsuit you wear with your boss, with your co workers. And so that basically led me on a search far and wide for the right swimsuit.
And basically what I found during that search is that like A, shopping for swimsuit sucks. I do think it's a category that's a bit different for men and for women, but the women's experience shopping is pretty horrendous. First of all, you have to get completely undressed in a changing room. And like those are obviously miserable to try on a swimsuit. And second of all, when a woman is wearing a swimsuit, it is the most naked she will ever be in public. There's obviously lingerie, but that's, you know, not typically worn in public. And so it is this really unique category that's sort of wrought with all these additional sort of psychological issues and stuff like that. And then on the product side, like I just couldn't find anything I liked. You have these sort of skimpy string bikinis, or you have you know, these like vastly overpriced swimsuits from brands that are respectable brands, but I'm not going to spend $500 on a one piece. And so I ended up with something overpriced that I didn't really like.
And on the retreat itself, so I was wearing a swimsuit that I was deeply uncomfortable. I A, realized really the key to a good swimsuit is just one that you feel good in. And B, I was speaking with many of my female colleagues on that trip and they all said the same thing. They all had the same experience that I did, I couldn't find a good swimsuit for this trip, I hate what I have, why does swimsuit shopping suck? And that was my a-ha moment when everything sort of came together. And I was like, I could start a swimsuit company that solves these pain points. I am a woman, I have this personal problem with it. I understand the issue. We can talk about that later, obviously I did a bunch of work on the category and the market opportunity before I risked it all to start it, but that was the bug that was like, I'm going to start a swimwear brand.
James McKinney: So do you have any textile experience whatsoever? I mean, I love the story that it was a company event that drove you to understand, like, just how painful it is because I'm not going to lie as you were talking? I was thinking through like, man, like, that's a great question to ask because one, I feel like companies nowadays would probably steer away from anything like that from just a potential liability issue. But I mean, like, all the suits now are super cheeky, what do you wear to a corporate event? And so we can talk those discussions maybe later, but you know, as you're processing how there needs to be something, my first go to is like, Huh, a swimsuit for corporate events. I can't imagine there's a large market for that. But that obviously wasn't necessarily the position you were going into, but immediately I'm like, but I haven't heard any textile experience. I haven't heard any sewing passion, anything to create your first prototype so did you have anything that kind of said I at least have some experience in this category?
Melanie Travis: Nope. Nothing at all. Just you know, boundless fear and what is that called? Like everlasting optimism that entrepreneurs need to have. No nothing at all. No experience with textile, no experience with product, no experience with fashion. I mean, Kickstarter, BarkBox, I also had a brief stint at Foursquare, another sort of consumer internet company. So absolutely nothing to do with fashion product, textiles, anything like that. Absolutely flying blind in the beginning. But you know, what I did know was brand building, community building, you know, the digital landscape of in terms of channels and where you acquire customers, selling a narrative, telling a story. And at the end of the day, a good brand is a good story, and I literally have a master's degree in that.
James McKinney: Yes. So what was your first step, then after that retreat? You know, you have this idea. And again, more times than not, we either table it, or something just keeps rubbing at us where it's like, I have to do something about this. So what was your journey from the retreat to where you actually start moving on this concept?
Melanie Travis: There were a few steps that I took from having that initial insight on the retreat about how miserable it is to shop for swimwear, to you know, launching a business. So the first thing I did was started looking into the market, I wanted to understand how big this opportunity could be. Is swimwear a tiny market where like, you can work really, really hard to build a tiny company? Or is it a massive market? What is the competitive landscape look like? Who are the incumbents or is it very fractured? And so I went home, and I went to google.com, which is basically an early entrepreneurs best friend. And I started Googling. That was really the main source that I used. And I read every article I could read about swimwear brands. What was happening in the space, who was coming up, were there venture… I went to Crunchbase to see if there were investments in swimwear brands. I used a tool called, I believe it's called Askwonder.com where you can pay a small, you can ask a question, like how big is the swimwear market? And what is the geographic breakdown of that market? You pay a small fee, and then they have sort of research experts that go out and do that. And I've actually used Ask Wonder a few times since then with the company. But so I did that, you know, and sometimes there's research reports you can pay a little money for so I tried to learn everything I could.
And what I learned from that exercise, which was probably a month or two of you know, extensive googling was that swim is an enormous market, I learned that it's growing quickly. And I learned that it's actually at the time, it had lower ecommerce penetration than other categories of apparel. It was something like 11% of all swim was purchased online, and other categories had moved a bit faster. And I think there's a little bit of, like there's reasons I understand why that's the case, some trepidation to buy something that has to fit so well. Fit is a key attribute of a good swimsuit, something as a fit so well, to do that online. But it was moving quickly. And I obviously think ecommerce is going to be massive. Obviously I'm pretty biased towards ecommerce mean big. So I figured great. This means there's a lot of opportunity to build an ecommerce brand and swim.
I learned like trend style, one pieces, bikinis, everything there really was to learn. And it got me really excited. It got me excited about the opportunity in the category. And I saw it as sort of like, actually the perfect time to launch a swimwear brand. And when I realized that the timing was right, given all the research I had done, I was like, Okay, I've got to move on this. This is a sort of now thing. There's all these tailwinds. And obviously, the experience economy was growing too, the sort of anecdotal things that I knew were happening. And so the very next thing I did, because, well, really, my wife did not authorize me to quit my job at BarkBox, which I enjoyed very much, to go start a swimsuit company on the internet until I've done a little more research. And so I launched a crowdfunding campaign for Andie, as the next thing I did to sort of validate the market opportunity beyond what you read in the expert reports.
And so I did a Kickstarter campaign. And I told myself, I'd give it two weeks. And I mean, I do know my way around a crowdfunding campaign, I worked at Kickstarter back in the day. I would give myself two weeks, it would be very simple project, I would talk to the camera and say why I was starting this company, what the pain points I have experienced with swimwear shopping are and if it went well, I would quit my job to start this and if it didn't, I would just fulfill whatever orders, I'd figure out how to make you know, call it 20 swimsuits or whatever. And obviously, here we are today, the crowdfunding campaign went very well. And it went well enough I also sort of understand signals and noise and what metrics mean. And so I think we raise something like $20,000 in two weeks, which you know, like in the history of Kickstarter that is minuscule and almost nothing but I knew that that meant there was a "there" there, that there was enough sort of organic interest and demand from women for a new refreshing swimwear brand that got it, that offered good styles.
And so at the end of the Kickstarter campaign, I talked to my former CEO Matt Meeker, and I told him, I've absolutely loved my experience at BarkBox but I have to go try doing this. And he was very understanding and very encouraging. And in fact, he gave me office space. And my first desk was at BarkBox. So I left BarkBox on my last day, we had a going away party, and then the next day, I was right back at my desk, but no longer getting paid. Not sure if I recommend that path. And, and that was sort of how it came to be. And then and then we ended up launching Andie in April of 2017 so just four months after my last day at BarkBox.
James McKinney: Oh, my goodness, incredible story. But so many questions I have. You mentioned Kickstarter, two week run, you talking to a camera. As you're talking about Kickstarter, I was like, wait, we haven't even talked about prototypes yet. So then you mentioned you're talking to a camera. So literally, it is just you sharing the story, which then I have to go back to your graduate studies is in storytelling, right? And now, of course, with where you're at now, with the growth of Andie, we know, I mean everyone I think at this point knows, I think we all know story is important, we probably don't know how to craft a story very well.
But let's talk about that talking head video for Kickstarter, right? Like your two week run. And it's just you to a camera, telling the story of what it is you're trying to accomplish, to the point that you can raise $20,000 on just a "here's what I want to accomplish." When you think of storytelling for that campaign, where you have nothing but ambition, a pain point you're trying to solve, and a market opportunity, although I don't even know if that was really part of the Kickstarter story, because most people don't care about that. They just care about a product. You know, like, what was the story? If you can remember, what was the story you were painting for that campaign?
Melanie Travis: Yeah. And by the way, you're right about the market opportunity. That was for me to validate leaving my job to risk this, I wouldn't do it if it was a small category. Once I was convinced that I could build a big business, then I did the story part. So what was the story? So it was really personal. I mean, I think a lot of people believe that to do successful Kickstarter video, you need to really high production value and all these like graphics and stuff. But actually, some of the most successful videos are literally people talking to the camera saying why they really want to do something. And so that's what I did. I said how much I dislike shopping for swimsuits, I talked about how frustrating the experience can be and how demoralizing it can be. And I talked about some of the conversations I'd had with friends and family members.
And I talked about my idea to solve it, which was a curated assortment of at the time, the idea for Andie that I had developed in my head, but it lived only in my head was the little black dress of swim. Just like every woman has a little black dress in her in her closet. Every woman should have an Andie swimsuit in her swim drawer. And it's the sort of perfect suit for a work retreat or vacation with your in laws, or literally anything. You just throw it in, you can have your huge array of other swimsuits, too. But the Andie is the easy one that you don't need to think about that you can rely on. It'll feel good, it'll look good, it's easy to shop for. That was the concept. And I just described that, the vision for that. And I did have a couple sketches. I found a woman on the internet who could sketch some sort of classic black silhouettes. And so I showed them, and I said what I would do next, which was go figure out who can make these and how to make them, and women were like, this sounds great. Like I would I would get this little black dress of swim.
James McKinney: Do you think those same principles apply to Kickstarter or any crowdfunding platform nowadays? Or have the expectations kind of increased a bit?
Melanie Travis: You know, it's a good question. I'm a little further from it now than I used to be. So I'm not sure. My guess is it's probably the landscape has probably changed a bit. But I mean, maybe not. Because at the end of the day, like people like a story, right? Like, you don't have to get fancy. And I think a good story will always resonate, whether it's told directly or through stunning graphics.
James McKinney: So when you think of the early days of Andie and let's just say post Kickstarter, if you were to synthesize the problem you were trying to solve, because again, to go back to your pain points that I remember from you from your story of trying to find the suit for that retreat, It was shopping is miserable, having undressed in the fitting room. The swimsuit is the closest to being naked possible so you want it to be absolutely the perfect fit. So we got fit, the shopping experience, and am I missing something really fitting shopping experience? I think were the two.
mt? Yeah, price point a little bit. It's either cheap string bikinis or like super luxury one pieces.
James McKinney: So when you think of what you were trying to solve out the gate from minute one, what was the key win for you?
Melanie Travis: It was the shopping experience. I went out and I decided I would go real simple on the product side, which I in a way I guess was also tackling one of the issues on the product side, but I wasn't going to try to make a swimsuit that every woman would love. It was like, let's just make a swimsuit or three. And in fact, I made three. I had three styles, and kept it just super simple, because you really can't take on everything at once or nothing will work. But I knew that the shopping experience had to be pleasant, because that was the most unpleasant thing.
And so the first iteration of Andie was actually there were no decisions to be made. Because we would send you all three styles in your size. All you did was you went to, if you plugged into the Wayback Machine actually you might see it, but you went to Andieswim.com, and you said your size. We had extra small through extra large at the time. Say you put in medium, that's it. That was literally it. You put a deposit I think it was $1 at the time, and we would send you all three swimsuits. They only existed in black so this was truly as basic as could be, you try them on in the comfort of your own home. And we had the return packaging. So once you were done with the try on, you'd put in whatever you didn't want to keep, send it back, and then we'd charge you for what you kept. It was supposed to completely solve the shopping issue and make it easy, painless, fast, fun, new. That was what we went after first.
James McKinney: And just out of curiosity, because that does sound extremely easy. It sounds similar to this Stitch Fix model when it comes to the wardrobe shopping. Obviously, from an inventory perspective, you have three suits, it pretty easy to manage. Why did that not stay the course for where we see Andie today?
Melanie Travis: It's not a great business model.
James McKinney: Can you explain? Can you explain what didn't work?
Melanie Travis: So there's a lot that doesn't work about it. First of all, you're right, that when you have three styles in black, and you send three out, it's not that complex from an operation standpoint, but the minute you introduce colors, and like women like colors at a certain point, or any additional styles, it becomes a massive, massive sort of headache and logistically complex situation. So very quickly, we introduced our first new color a couple months in, two new colors, navy and white. And I mean, nothing like groundbreaking on the fashion side. But it became massively complex logistically. And then from an inventory planning standpoint, we were a very small company. And so we didn't have a lot of inventory. And to send three at a time out meant we were often… we didn't have anything while we were waiting for it to come back. And so then you're killing your conversion.
And then if you only charge people $1 deposit, and you send them all the materials to return the swimsuits, well, a lot of them are just going to return the swimsuits, all three of them. And I think what the model was good for was first of all, understanding the complexities of inventory planning, which I had no experience with. And, second of all, it was good for press. We got a lot of press, I mean, if I remember back in the day, just being really shocked. But we were doing something actually innovative in a pretty stale old category. And so I certainly don't regret doing it. But, we had raised a tiny amount. We had the $20,000 from Kickstarter. And then in addition to that, I had probably raised about $100,000 from friends and family and I'm talking like $5,000 to $10,000 checks from group of people, so quite small. And a few months in I was just about out of money. So it was not a productive model if you want to actually build a business, but it got us out. And then one of the last sort of investments I made before we went out to raise more cash was flipped it to a sort of traditional ecommerce model.
James McKinney: And how does the e commerce model, again let's put a year on this when did you flip to traditional ecomm?
Melanie Travis: Towards the end of 2017, probably like October or November. We launched in April, so maybe six months in or so.
James McKinney: Okay, so the end of 2017. Going back to the problem of improving the shopping experience for a suit and how miserable it is shopping for a suit. How, knowing that that is hanging the forefront of your mind because that is why you started Andie, how does flipping to traditional e commerce address that?
Melanie Travis: Great question. So we did a few things when we flipped it to ecomm. One is we kept our value proposition of free shipping and free returns. So it wasn't that different than getting the box. The only difference was that you had to actually pay upfront for what you were bringing home, but you could still return everything and get your money back. So like, conceptually, it wasn't actually that different. It felt like a different experience. But in the end, I think women appreciated being able to choose because back in the box version that we were sending, there were no choices, which I did because I was really focused on optimizing conversion and just like super fast.
I realized shopping isn't just about speed, it's also about enjoyment. And so giving options, and then we also implemented, we spent a lot of time designing and implementing a fit quiz on our website. A really thorough fit quiz, not just with basic factual questions like what is your size and weight, and bust size and whatever, but like, what do you like to do in a swimsuit? What parts of your body do you like to show off? Are you more active or more loungy? Really sort of qualitative questions. And then we would use those questions to serve recommendations. And women really enjoyed taking that fit quiz. And it's become a pretty big conversion engine for us now.
James McKinney: That's really cool. You know, as you're talking about that fit quiz, I'm reminded of again, how the idea of Andie came to be. You were looking for a swimsuit for a corporate retreat, right? And maybe, you know, maybe I'm incorrectly applying a certain look and style to a company function. But as you were designing these, were you thinking corporate venues? Or were you thinking cultural acceptance?
Melanie Travis: Cultural acceptance. I was thinking, I really was taking this idea of the little black dress and applying it to what would be like the most classic silhouettes? And I would, I mean, I'm not a designer, but I would ask my friends, like, show me your favorite swimsuit. And I would look at, you know, I was Pinterest'ing all the time. Like, what are the little black swimsuits that like Princess Diana wore, like your sort of iconic women in history? And that sort of informed the first silhouettes.
James McKinney: And I will say, as a dad, I love that you have a selection of suits that I have no problem with my daughter wearing. So that's just a plug for the dads out there listening that are like why is every suit out there exposing half the butt. I'm telling you, Andie has suits that you can give to your daughter without a problem.
Melanie Travis: Yes. That's so true.
James McKinney: I greatly appreciate that. So let's continue on with the journey of Andie so you flipped the ecomm. It's a bit more manageable. Let's talk about some of the fundraising side of this. And so I don't know if you've gone through series A, I don't know where you're at in the fundraising cycle. But you talked about friends and family. So what has been the capitalization of Andie as it has grown?
Melanie Travis: So now we're four and a half years old, and we've raised $8.5 million dollars in venture financing. So that's basically through series A, it was basically $2.5 million. It was big. I mean, nothing is ever as neat as it sounds, but like, basically it was $2.5 million dollar seed round, and then a $6 million series A. And that's what we've done to get to where we are. And the future is sort of ours to just say we've been a bit like many businesses, I think we became profitable during COVID. And so now we sort of up to us if we want to take on more capital and keep going down that path, or if we want to be a sort of self sufficient brand from here.
James McKinney: Did the impact of COVID to your business, and it sounds like it was a profitable season for you during COVID, did that surprise you being that people were just kind of homebound? The idea-
Melanie Travis: Oh yes.
James McKinney: I mean I know everyone wanted to be outside. But at the same time, we were really kind of landlocked. We didn't know what summer was going to look like. So talk to me about what you thought was going to happen come the end of March when everything started shutting down. What did you think was going to happen that year? And then what were you surprised to find out and discover?
Melanie Travis: I mean, in extreme terms, end of March I thought Andie would be over, I thought we would not survive. End of March was a dark time. And I don't think we're alone in that. I think every business, no matter what you sold, the second half of March, customers were like the world is ending. It was just an unprecedented global pandemic. If they had purchased a swimsuit earlier in the month, they were returning it and no one was shopping for a swimsuit in the second half of March, which also coincided with my birthday. So that was a really fun birthday.
But you know, very quickly it started turning around. April we started seeing consumer demand comeback, and also pricing on Facebook, like CPMs, those metrics were quite depressed as a lot of businesses pulled out of the Facebook auction. So we were starting to, we'd sort of pulled back our marketing spend as well. We weren't going to be marketing swimsuits right when this thing was starting to come out. But then April, we started spending again a little bit and suddenly conversions were really high and the costs were really low to acquire customers. And so we sort of poured the gas on in May and it really came roaring back. And I think people had spent a few months cooped up. Yes, we were homebound but we were also like being outside was one of the safest things you could do. And so we had, we definitely had a bit of a geographic shift. So Florida is a big swim market. It's never been a big market for Andie. And I think that's because there's so many swim boutiques, but they were largely closed. And so suddenly, Florida exploded as one of our top markets. And there's a lot of beaches there.
I think people if they had a local beach, they were buying a new swimsuit, to feel kind of good about something when the world did not feel so good. But even you know, in New York City, or in urban areas, women were buying swimsuits to like sit on their fire escapes, or in a puddle of sun in their living room. There's a lot of like, FOMO happening, and the prices were so low to acquire customers on digital platforms that we ended up, suddenly, we became profitable a lot earlier than expected. And it was, I mean, it was a hard time for so many, but the business came out pretty strong from it.
James McKinney: That's incredible. I've noticed recently that you've done a collaboration with Demi Moore and her daughter's, and I asked this question because we all know influencer marketing works. Like we get it. But you're a startup. That tends to not be an easy go-to especially when you there's influencers we can leverage for free. What was the catalyst and the conversation to say, let's go after someone iconic, like Demi, for our campaign? What was what was taking place in the conversation rooms, in the war room if you will, that said, this is the time to flip the switch and go all in with a huge brand collab with like Demi Moore?
Melanie Travis: So I mentioned that early on we'd raised about $100,000 friends and family round and, and by the way, friends and family rarely actually means friends and family, just means like angel investors. And I had met Demi Moore ages ago, actually when I was at BarkBox. She's a big dog person. And there's some sort of collaboration that had happened. And I had her email address. And when I was starting Andie, I went through basically my Rolodex of contacts and I emailed anyone I knew that might potentially be interested in learning more. And I emailed Demi Moore, and I said, "I'm sure you don't remember me, but we collaborated on rescuing this dog, whatever. I'm starting a swimwear brand. And I'd love to tell you about it." And to my enormous surprise, she replied to that email. And not only did she reply, but we ended up having a few sessions together, where I told her about the brand and my vision and what I was trying to build. And she ended up being one of the very first checks into Andie. It was a small check-
James McKinney: That's amazing.
Melanie Travis: … but it was a check from Demi Moore, which really validated. It really, I mean, I think on an entrepreneurial journey, there's a lot of hard work, but you need a few lucky breaks. And that was one of the first lucky breaks I ever got. And, but then after she wrote that check, she was sort of in the background, because like you said, it's just a start up, she's a big sort of global figure, name, presence and so wasn't really involved in any meaningful way, sort of in front of the camera, as they say.
Then in December of 2020, COVID was still bad, but there was a lot of talk of these vaccines. And I think, you know, as the CEO one of my job's is to sort of look six to 12 months ahead at any given time, and I was thinking about summer 2021. And I thought, you know, if these vaccines work, this is going to be a huge summer. This is going to be people getting out for the first time in over a year traveling, getting together with their families and their loved ones. And this is going to be the time to partner with Demi Moore. And so I emailed her and said, "I would like to do a big campaign with you and your family, to celebrate summer of 2021 getting together, like really go big, I think this is the time."
And she was totally game. She loved it, you know, she lived the same experience that we all did of being closed up. And so that's sort of when that was born. And from December to July, we launched it in July, we launched the whole campaign in July of 2021. We spent many, many, many, many, many hours together working out the campaign and what would happen, what it would be, and I'm really proud of it, and it definitely helped elevate Andie to the next level.
James McKinney: That's incredible. Now working with an influencer or someone of Demi's stature, and again, obviously she's an investor so this probably is less applicable, but I want to ask it anyway, just in case it is. Do you ever worry about your branding having to take a backseat to their branding? Because they have a persona, they have a brand that they have to maintain, and therefore your branding is secondary to theirs. Again, it may not be applicable to where you were at with this. But was there a concern in any way, shape or form?
Melanie Travis: No, not at all. Not at all. Like if they have a brand to me that's only a good thing because it will drive more awareness of ours. I mean, like, yes, I would never go partner with someone that's not a good fit for Andie. But you know, when I first started, like Demi Moore is a great fit, she always has been. She's sort of like the quintessential Andie woman, a woman of the world and accomplished and just like sort of the perfect Andie woman.
And we also partnered with a with a celebrity by the name of Claire Holt. In June, we did a big cobranded collection, she designed a line, she's like, I don't know, 8 million followers on Instagram or something. But we spent a lot of time and did a lot of work finding the right celebrity to partner with for that collaboration. And so we would like if someone's not the right fit, we wouldn't partner with them. Really because it just wouldn't be successful if from a from a business standpoint. But Demi and Claire Holt, I never had any concerns with and was just excited by how they would elevate the brand, which they both did. And we ended up having a hugely successful summer. And so it's been really good.
James McKinney: I love it. You know, you had mentioned the quintessential Andie woman. And I'm such a big fan of customer persona. And when as soon as you said, Andie woman, I was like, Oh, that's the persona. Can you unpack for me, because I love the topic, as well as my listeners, who the Andie woman is and how you came to that exact persona of who your customer is?
Melanie Travis: Yeah, so well, you should come talk to our marketing team, because I wouldn't say our personas are super fleshed out. But, you know, we do know certain things like, our core demographic is a woman who is 25 to 45. And so she's not Gen Z. Gen Z is really like hip right now. Great, would love that Gen Z woman, but like the Andie woman is not really Gen Z right now. She lives in sort of affluent suburbs. She we know, sort of like vaguely what kind of job she has. That's sort of like the core demo. But I think the thing that makes Andie unique is that Andie it's actually a quintessentially cross generational brand. And where we do really well, where we excel, is the mothers and daughters. And I don't mean, like a 25 year old mom with a five year old daughter or whatever, I'm doing my math, I don't even know if that makes sense.
And that's this is actually why we did Demi and her daughters, because Demi is she's 58 and her youngest daughter, Tallulah is 27. And they wore the same swimsuits in the photos. And it was our way of saying like, Look, whether you're 58 or 27 you'll look great in an Andie. We just fit and it's sort of like your perfect cross generational swimwear brand, which hopefully, you know, is a step towards becoming the generation defining brand, like go to category defining brand. So that's not really a persona answer. But that's sort of how we think about who we go after.
James McKinney: I love that, absolutely love it. How did you come up with the name, Andie?
Melanie Travis: Well the real story now that we've been chatting for a while, is that as you know I used to work at BarkBox and there was a teeny little dog at BarkBox named Andie, and I loved that dog so much. And so slightly different spelling, that dog ended with a "Y", our Andie is A-N-D-I-E, but ended up naming it Andie. Also just in addition to the dog, which is the true story, in addition to the dog, I wanted a name that felt like a friend, because swim shopping is it's such a vulnerable experience for women. I didn't want like, you know, some corporate sounding name like… Oh, I'm not going to say one because you don't want to, but so I wanted to felt like a friend and Andie felt like that.
James McKinney: I love it. Absolutely love it. I want to honor your time that you've granted to us and so we won't take too much more before we get to our final three questions. But before we get there, though, swimwear it is a huge opportunity. But do you think do you see the Andie brand staying solely in swimwear or do you have a vision for something greater for the brand?
Melanie Travis: My vision for Andie is that we will be primarily a swim brand, like a brand built on swim but not swim forever and always as the only category. And in fact, in April of this year, on our four year anniversary, we launched a small intimates collection as a test. Two bralette styles modeled after our two top selling bikini top styles. And three bottom styles. It's a small intimates collection, it sold really well it basically sold out. And so we know that intimates is something that the Andie woman would come to us for and would buy and so I think you know, and that's, you know, speaking of category size, intimates Is it a multitrillion dollar market.
James McKinney: Huge.
Melanie Travis: So intimates and I think intimates is probably just the beginning of a fuller category expansion, but we'll ask, we'll survey our customers and pay attention to what they want.
James McKinney: Is Andie only found online right now?
Melanie Travis: Yes, we're only on andieswim.com.
James McKinney: And do you see that being the case for the foreseeable future? Or do you see a multi channel approach?
Melanie Travis: I'm very excited about omni channel or multi channel. I think omni is very much in our future, probably the near term future, which I can't believe I'm saying because during COVID, I was like, thank God we're only Andie swim calm, we never closed. It's one of the reasons we succeeded. But now, I think you reach a certain scale, and you realize you really want to go meet women where they are. And omni channel is something that my team thinks about a lot. So I think you'll be seeing some exciting stuff from us soon hopefully there.
James McKinney: How, again, being that the brand was centered on enhancing the shopping experience, when you start going into channels outside of ecomm, and again, I'm sure you have an incredibly creative team to think through this. But how do you stay true to, or maybe it's time to grow outside of that origin story? But how do you stay true to the enhancing the shopping experience when you go to a brick and mortar?
Melanie Travis: Oh, yeah, I mean, that's something we spend a lot of time thinking about. And I think over time, there's other things we've layered in online as well. For example, the fit expert team, which is what we call our customer support team, we invest in an in-house highly trained team of fit experts. And we do video consultations, we use sort of like cutting edge technology to do video consults, where you can build a cart on the sidebar of it. And I think experience and obviously phone, I mean, that's very retro, but some people just like talking on the phone. But I think some of the things that we've implemented on our ecomm site to enable a best in class shopping experience, are actually sort of perfectly suited to translate to a brick and mortar experience. Whether that's bringing our own in house fit experts to the stores, or having sort of digital fit versions of the fit quiz throughout the store. It's you know, things like that. I think we can. And by the way, also just like the architecture of the dressing room, that has to be a nice dressing room. No more like banging your elbows under fluorescent light.
James McKinney: So are you thinking Andie retail, not through major big box retail?
Melanie Travis: Oh, I'm thinking both. I'm the founder. So there's like a little bit of an ego egomaniac inside of me somewhere. And so definitely owned brick and mortar is something that we're exploring. But we'd have to be strategic about it. Because it is swim. So you know, swimwear store in the depths of February snow might not be the smartest business move. But there's ways to get around that. And then also some sort of strategic wholesale to complement that strategy.
James McKinney: Oh, absolutely love it. Absolutely love it. You know, if we were to have a Where are they now episode, let's say, three years from now, we won't go too far down like five, 10 years, that's too far to think, let's say three years from now, where will Andie be?
Melanie Travis: We'll be everywhere. We'll be in store, we'll be online, we'll be international. We move fast, so three years isn't a long time. But I think we'll be-
James McKinney: If you were to put a number on units sold in, let's say at the end of 2024? How many? How many units sold do you see?
Melanie Travis: Oh boy, I'm going to have to do some math there. Like all time, or within the year?
James McKinney: Within that year.
Melanie Travis: Let's go ahead and say 5 million swimsuits.
James McKinney: There you go. You spoke it. There we go. Excellent. Awesome. You know, it's been an absolute joy sitting with you. It's been a true privilege. And I want to honor that time by not holding you much longer than we had scheduled. But at the same time, I want to honor my listeners time with the final three questions that I ask every founder, and that first one being about the idea of entrepreneurship. And you know, again, part of your story is you worked at Kickstarter, where you started drinking the Kool Aid that everyone's a creator. And I think there's a nuance between creator and entrepreneur. But now that you've built a business that many of us look to with an aspirational perspective, do you think anyone can be an entrepreneur?
Melanie Travis: Yes, I think anyone can be an entrepreneur, I don't think everyone would enjoy it.
James McKinney: Can you explain?
Melanie Travis: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is just risk tolerance. You have to be comfortable with taking enormous risks and some people don't like that, and I have found on my entrepreneurial journey that there are truly remarkable, some of the most brilliant people I've ever met are self described number two's, or like wing men or wing women and they don't want to be the founder, they don't want what comes with that. But they want to be someone's right hand guy or gal, whatever. And I think I've been lucky enough to have those and those people, I mean they do not want to run their own company, but they want to be the number two. And that is really important. And great businesses are not built without great number twos. So could they do it? Sure. But they don't want to, at least the ones I've met.
James McKinney: One of the many reasons I started The Startup Story was to break down some of these false ideas about entrepreneurship. And one of those is this idea that it's a Lone Ranger journey. It's just us on a laptop pounding away at code until we raise $100 million, right? I mean, of course, there's the Airbnb story. But that's an anomaly. It's not the norm. However, media has portrayed it as though it's the normal journey. And so for that reason, we tend to think that we have to have all the answers, that we have to have all the skill sets, that it is about us and our ability to execute, when the truth of the matter is we're where we are today, because of the shoulders who we've stood upon to help get us here. So when you think back to your journey, your journey to how you got to where you are today, who are the people that you look to as such immense gratitude for their contribution?
Melanie Travis: Oh, God, yes so many. I definitely agree with what you said. I feel like I don't have any answers, by the way, like all the answers come from the people around me and from relationship building. So you know, obviously, first comes to mind Demi Moore, which is maybe a strange one to say. But she was the first check in to Andie, she has been just such an authentic supporter and needle mover of the business. And so I'm incredibly grateful for that friendship and what she has done for me and for Andie.
And then, you know, Rachel Thaw was my very first employee, I talked about those amazing number two's and she is that. And then other people who sort of believed in me first, Meeta Gournay, she now has her own business. She's an alcohol free spirits business, which is all the rage these days. And my wife, Leah, who like not only has been sort of part time CFO, she's an investment banker, so moonlighting as a CFO, but also like good God, an entrepreneur needs an incredible amount of emotional support, so having a good spouse. I mean, the list really goes on and on. But those are some of the some of the highlights, at the end of the day, what you said is exactly right. I think a good a good founder is just like, sometimes it's sort of like, it's just a relationship thing. And you certainly don't have to have all the answers. But you have to know what to do with that when people provide them to you.
James McKinney: Absolutely love it. Yeah, I say it all the time that if the episode had to be trimmed to 20 minutes, that question would never get cut. I think it is so important for us to reflect-
Melanie Travis: I love it.
James McKinney: … on all the people that have contributed to where we are. And so for our final question together, our final time together, as much as I would love to allow my listeners to have a one on one moment with you at this scale, it would be unreasonable. And I would never try to facilitate that. So again, it's not the most creative way. But I thought, hey, let's reverse engineer this, and allow you to speak to them directly. And so while they've been listening in on our conversation, as I'm learning from you, I'd like to ask you to just speak some truth into my listener. And maybe it's the persona of the startup founder who just got started, and isn't quite sure what those next steps are. But they feel completely inadequate, because they have no experience within the category that they want to disrupt. Or maybe it's the founder who has been at this for some period of time, but is constantly discouraged by cash flow challenges, or people challenges or operational challenges. Or maybe it's the founder who lost everything last year, and isn't quite sure that they're ready to get back on the horse again. Whoever that persona is, and maybe you resonate with all three of them, I don't know, but whoever it is, what would you say to that founder?
Melanie Travis: Get back on, keep trying, keep going. I often think that, in my experience, I see that the main thing that separates success from failure is just giving up. And it's not any innate sense of this or that, or like your educational background or your experiences. It's literally just pushing through brick walls, getting back up, dusting yourself off. And so my advice is like you can do it just you've just got to do it, not to quote Nike. But I think that is sort of the thing that separates success from failures, truly just not giving up.
James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value that Melanie Travis 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 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 with that in mind, there are two things I want you to do as a show of support and appreciation to Melanie and Andie. The first is follow @Andieswim on Instagram, and it's just all one word A-N-D-I-E-S-W-I-M, Andie swim, follow them on Instagram. You know better than most that awareness is so challenging. So go follow @Andieswim right now. The second thing is to visit Andieswim.com and test out their fit quiz. As soon as you visit Andieswim.com, you will see "Fit" in the navigation, just hit that link and then select fit quiz. And of course, we will include a direct link to the fit quiz in our show notes. We'll also include one to their Instagram account, but don't delay, go follow @Andieswim right now. Again, capturing awareness is so challenging for a startup founder. I know you know this. So let's make sure to show up for Melanie in this way. And now for my personal ask.
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