Eric Bandholz is the founder of Beardbrand, an e-commerce dedicated to the urban beardsman, which is grossing over $100K/month. We are here to learn from his mistakes and disadvantages.
February 21, 2019
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I’ve got a fairly diverse background before starting my current business, Beardbrand. My career started off in sales and I worked for a few companies doing inside and outside sales. The one that helped me the most with my career was my job as an outside salesman for a small commercial printing company. This is where I was able to hone my knowledge and experience in the creative field.
During the economic crash of 2008, I lost my job and started my journey as an entrepreneur. My first business was less of a business and more of self-employment. I joined my dad’s company and tried my hand at being an executive recruiter. Placing jobs during a recession wasn’t an easy thing to accomplish, and I hung up my cleats with no success. As I faced challenges as a recruiter I started another business on the side called Wakomo.
Wakomo was my first attempt into the e-commerce space and I designed and produced vinyl wall graphics (my inspiration was Blik). I built the website, produced the graphics, and had one or two sales, but I lost confidence in myself and eventually gave that up.
After a string of failures, I decided it was time to start making money again and worked as a financial advisor for about 18 months. I had success here, but I found the job unfulfilling. I had the taste of freedom and working for the ‘man’ wasn’t for me. So I quit that job to start up another business, Sovrnty.
Sovrnty was to be a marketing consulting business but ended up essentially being a freelance graphic design company. I gained a few clients who helped sustain me, but I never felt like it was a proper business - I was essentially self-employed and I didn’t want to be a professional graphic designer.
During this time (2010 - 2011) I started growing my beard out while still being integrated into the business community. I would get lots of comments about my beard looking like Grizzly Adams, ZZ Top, or Duck Dynasty. While these guys are cool in their own way, I didn’t feel connected to those stereotypes.
I attended a beard-related event and realized there were a lot of other guys like me, guys who I called Urban Beardsmen. I wanted to unite these groups of guys and show the world that you can be stylish, professional, be a normal dude, and have a beard. At the time that was a very foreign concept, so I established Beardbrand as a way to unite Urban Beardsmen and give them the tools they needed to feel confident about their beards.
Beardbrand started off through content - we had a YouTube channel, Tumblr page, and a blog. We built a small community and then leveraged some lucky press with the NY Times to launch an e-commerce business selling grooming products. The rest, as they say, is history.
Currently, Beardbrand is a 7 figure business with just under 20 employees in Austin, TX. We formulate and manufacture men’s grooming products that focus on beard care, hair care, and body care. We ship out of both USA & UK to serve our customers across the world.
Beardbrand is a bootstrapped business so keeping our costs down has always been a top priority. To do that, we started off as a retailer and tested the market with other brand’s products. If they were successful we’d develop our own and phase out the other brands.
Our initial product was beard oil and I found a lot of the products on the market were a little heavy, shiny, and too fragrant. Since the product goes right under your nose, we wanted the fragrance to be subtler and from a performance standpoint it needed to be lightweight and absorb quickly into the beard. A healthy satin shine is the finish that we desired.
After many formulations and versions, we settled on a formula that we believed to be class leading. The market agreed and saw great success with our beard oils.
All the profits we made went directly back into the business. In the early days, we tried many different things and I always wanted for Beardbrand to be a lifestyle company, so we tried shirts, suspenders, leather products, and accessories. As much as I tried to force those products, they never got the same traction as our grooming product launches.
Finally, I relented and focused on becoming a men’s grooming brand rather than an apparel company. It probably took me way longer than it should have.
Beardbrand grew rapidly in the first year as we were telling a unique story at the time and reaching men who have never had a tribe before. We were one of the first companies to make a beard oil and invested heavily into educating the market. This helped us stand out and grow organically. With our unique product, brand, and sales trajectory we were able to get onto Shark Tank.
Shark Tank helped give us exposure to a large audience and accelerated our growth path. I think we would have been able to get to where we are now without that experience, but I’m very grateful and lucky to have appeared on the show. We still get minor bumps from the reruns on CNBC.
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At each stage of our business, we employed different marketing tactics based on the market and our cash flows. Early in the business, when we were cash poor, we spent a lot of time in the world of content. That meant tons of time on social media, YouTube, Tumblr, and Reddit. We tried to provide as much value to the community as possible and deliver world-class customer experience.
As we generated more cash, we started dipping our toes into paid marketing channels. Our early investments were primarily focused on remarketing tools as well as PR. We also did a bit of influencer marketing, but never paid to have our products endorsed. We only want authentic connections with our brand and products.
We continued to grow and have invested more into paid marketing through Facebook and Google. We’ve seen some success there, but we still aren’t at the level that I think our brand should be at. So, with the moderate success in paid, we’ve decided to focus on what we do best - content.
Our top focus has been cranking out quality videos on YouTube daily, in-depth and thorough blog articles, and well-organized email marketing campaigns. Pair that with unique social media posts, and we feel we have something that stands out in a crowded market.
I’ve been passionate about our business, our products, and the community from day #1, however when building the business I never anticipated what it meant to be a leader of an organization. For the longest time, I put off managing duties with the hope that our hires would just get it.
Of course, they didn’t (no fault to them), and it lead to several headaches. After about 3 years we finally understood that for the business to grow we needed to become better managers.
We implemented the techniques from Traction which helped us set KPIs, improve our hiring process, and maintain our vision.
I’m an entrepreneur in the purest sense. A lot of people will always joke about the “ideas guy” and that person is me. It’s very valuable in the sense that it allows us to overcome challenges creatively, but it’s also a pretty big hindrance.
I frequently get bored and move on to the next idea. This has led to (and will probably continue to) confuse the team with the direction. Having quarterly strategy sessions has helped take away my shiny ball syndrome, but it’s still something I struggle with every single day.
In the early days, we gave our team a lot of freedom without many guidelines, accountability, or metrics. Subsequently, it was challenging for them to know if they were being successful in their role and they didn’t have all the information they needed to make appropriate decisions.
One season we made investments into inventory that would take 24 months to clear through. Fortunately for us, the product isn’t perishable and we’re able to work through it, but it’s not fun having that much capital in inventory that won’t move for a long time.
Other challenges came in the form of our proofing process (or lack of one). We’ve had several products that needed to be destroyed, recalled, or re-produced because labels were wrong. After about 5 years and tens of thousands of dollars of loss, we’ve finally made it a top priority to resolve and mistakes have dropped dramatically.
I think we should have given more consideration to our product launch strategy and the number of fragrances we carry. The variety we provide is nice, but operationally it slows down our ability to scale and keep things in stock. It’s a double-edged sword that gives us a competitive advantage in some sense so it makes sense to keep it. It would also erode some of the trust we’ve built up with our customers if we decided to kill a large part of our offerings. At the time we made those decisions it seemed to be a smart idea.
I’m a big fan of networking events and connecting with other entrepreneurs. That’s how I learn the best. I just got back from E-commerce Fuel Live and have plans to attend several other conferences of various focuses. Everything from YouTube to e-commerce, to small mastermind style events.
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