Hi! Tell me about you and your business.
I’m Eric Bandholz, the founder of Beardbrand. Beardbrand is a men’s grooming company that makes products for your beard, hair, and body. In addition to that, we also create a significant amount of content on our YouTube channel.
I serve as the Creative Director and make sure that the brand stays true to our original vision and is communicated appropriately.
We’ve bootstrapped the business from a $30 investment to seven figures in a short period of time. We’ve been expanding our product offerings with the goal of getting towards that 8 figure mark.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before starting Beardbrand, I was a financial advisor at a big bank. I felt the corporate pressures to look and behave a certain way and it was too much for me. So I left that career, grew out my beard and started a graphic design business.
As I rocked a beard in the business world, I heard a lot of typical bearded stereotypes - Grizzly Adams, ZZ Top, and Duck Dynasty. While those are interesting people, they weren’t lifestyles that I personally identified with.
We launched the Beardbrand e-commerce store a few days before I found out that my wife was pregnant with our first child. That gave me a tight deadline.
It was after attending an event with other bearded individuals similar to me that I realized there was an entirely new group of beardsmen. I coined the term “urban beardsman” to describe myself and people similar to me. An urban beardsman is a typical dude who doesn’t fit the traditional stereotypes that come with a beard.
Beardbrand was created to unite urban beardsmen and give them the tools they needed to feel confident about being themselves. That meant creating a lot of content (blog posts, videos, and talking on podcasts).
At first, we started with regular posts on Tumblr because that was the easiest platform to generate a bulk amount of content quickly. In addition to that, I wrote a few blog posts and created a few YouTube videos, but it was a very modest community. I think we had 300 YouTube subscribers after 12 months and only a hundred daily visitors to our blog.
After about a year of creating content, we launched an e-commerce store to sell men’s grooming products and it’s been a grind ever since. Gradually, I reduced my commitment to my graphic design business and put those efforts into Beardbrand as it got traction.
Describe the process of creating Beardbrand.
We launched the Beardbrand e-commerce store a few days before I found out that my wife was pregnant with our first child. That gave me a tight deadline to grow Beardbrand to the point it could support our family or else I’d have to go back to the corporate world.
In those very early days of Beardbrand, there was a bit of luck on our side. First, we were pretty much the only organization that took growing beards seriously (today everyone and their mom talks about beards & beard care). Because of that, it was easy for us to get noticed.
In November of 2012, I was contacted by a reporter from the New York Times who was doing a piece on beards. I told my co-founders about it and suggested that we take advantage of the publicity and try to sell some products on an e-commerce store. It was at that moment that we decided to monetize the brand.
We started our store by carrying a different brand’s products. I was familiar with a small beard oil & mustache wax manufacturer (think Etsy level business). So I reached out to that person and asked if we could resell their products at standard wholesale prices. He agreed, and we added two types of beard oil and one mustache wax available for purchase on our website. I believe the initial order was about $100 worth of products.
For the platform, we decided to go with Shopify and built the website with one of their free templates. I used the photography from our manufacturer and wrote the copy myself. Because I was a graphic designer, I was able to build the website in about two days. We launched on January 28th, 2013, just two days before the New York Times article went live. I made a post on Facebook, and ironically the first customer of Beardbrand was also my first customer of my graphic design business.
Then the New York Times article was published, which ended up driving about $515 worth of sales over the next seven days and gave me the motivation to grow and expand the business. In these early days, I was fulfilling the products myself and running them to the post office. Eventually, we partnered up with a fulfillment house so that we could focus on our marketing efforts.
We are a truly bootstrapped company - no outside money, no bank loans, no debt. My co-founders purchased their shares of the company as we launched and we rolled any profits back into the business. We didn’t pull any cash out of the business for the first ten months, and then after that, it was a very modest salary.
I’m fortunate to live a modest lifestyle, and my wife has a job that could support both of us. Without that, our story might be completely different.
We were lucky to be the company to build a new industry - beard care. As the market leader, we were able to parlay that into copious amounts of PR which helped accelerate our growth. Our early wins were that NY Times article, but also we were included in some best beard oils articles that included our products. Those other articles ended up ranking well on Google and drove a good part of our business.
Those articles were great, but our most significant PR event was appearing on Shark Tank on Halloween of 2014. The exposure from being on Prime Time TV is like none other. If you want to see what that did for our business, check out the write up I did over on Reddit.
We’ve continued to have a lean mentality with our product launches and offering. We create small initial batch runs and modify our products based on the feedback from our customers. This minimizes risk and allows us to continue to grow as a bootstrapped company.
It was about 7 or 8 months in that I felt the business had potential to support me and my family. We were doing about $25k/month at that time, but still not pulling anything out of the business. I’ve always thought Beardbrand has had potential to do 9 figures, so we are grinding away trying to figure out how to do that.
How have you grown the business to where it is today?
Our top priority for getting in front of new customers is through content creation. Currently, we are publishing one YouTube video per day, along with a matching blog post. YouTube has been an excellent platform for us. It’s really the only social media channel that still has insane organic reach. The other nice thing about YouTube is that it’s really hard to do well, so it keeps away a lot of competitors.
YouTube is always changing the algorithm so it’s important to understand their motives and create content that falls in line with what they want to share. As of this writing, that means content that grows user's watch time and is advertiser-friendly. You have to be prepared to change your strategy based on the platform.
Once we get them to our website we then try to drive them into our Beardsman Quiz funnel which allows us to capture their email and get them in our email flow.
We’ve always had a preference for owning our audience as much as possible. That means creating our own content and collecting email addresses. I think it’s a longer and slower way to grow, but leads to a more stable business model.
After people visit our website, we will also remarket to them using Google Adwords and Facebook. Currently, we don’t have a channel that makes up a majority of our sales. This is a blessing and a curse. I think it helps level out our sales, but it prevents us from growing exponentially if we were exceptional at one of our channels.
If you could go back, would you do anything differently?
One of the internal themes we rolled out for 2017 was “focus” and I think that’s something that I wish we implemented earlier in our strategy. We tried to do too much too quickly, and it spread us pretty thin. With our internal push for "focus", it meant the team could look at the things we did well, and figure out ways to improve it. Before, we were just trying to identify how to grow as quickly as possible. Now, we are able to improve profitability, inventory management, marketing tactics, product development, and project management. There’s still room to improve, so that’s why we’ll continue to keep that them going.
Our other big mistake was not committing to a hiring process and our reluctance to come to terms with being a business manager, rather than just a founder. A small team of 4 or 5 is easy to manage as everyone understands what to do, but when you get above that, communication becomes harder. If you don’t have the right people in place, everything slows down.
We follow the topgrading hiring strategy, and we’ve found it really helps us find the right team members for the company. I wish we started off with that from day one.
How have you dealt with competition?
You know, I can’t really control our competitors. If they are infringing on our trademarks and copyrights, we’ll have our legal team go after them, but otherwise, we focus on our customers and how we can make their experience even better.
We’ve had a countless number of copycats, and last I checked there were 1500+ beard care companies. We simply try to do things that are 10x better than what anyone else can do. It’s why we are pushing a video a day, blog posts all the time, and world-class customer service. Amazon will never be able to touch us with what we provide to our customers, and very few will be able to integrate handsome design, excellent customer service, and a bustling community for their customers.
Where you are at now and what are your plans for the future?
We like being independent as it allows us to focus on our customers and what’s best for them - rather than paying off debt or getting returns for investors. Personally, I love Beardbrand and being part of it. It would be fun to grow it to a point that I’m truly out of the day to day and can focus exclusively on the vision. We are still a few key hires away from that point.
Our strategy now is to get better at what we are currently doing. We’ll be integrating more analytical based decision-making processes as well as expanding our product offering. There’s a bunch of products I want to roll out to feel like we have a full line of men’s grooming products. In addition, I want to build the company to be thought of as a men’s grooming company rather than just a beard care company. That’s going to be a big hurdle, but I think we can get there.
Right now things are pretty good for me and we’ve got a really good team in place. We still struggle with selling quicker than we expected, but that’s a good problem. My other big project is to find a marketing channel that allows us to scale our business significantly. We’ve tested a lot of channels, but none are delivering the results I want.
What tools do you use for your business?
We are big fans of Shopify and are a Shopify Plus customer. That being said, I was a little annoyed when they jacked the price up significantly. Even at the higher rate, I think they bring a significant amount of value to the business. If they continue to raise prices, we’ll have to re-evaluate that decision.
Our email flows are built on Klaviyo and they are serviceable. They’ve been making some nice progress with their platform over the past couple months in terms of design and speed. Email marketing is a big part of our business.
Speaking of email and website, one of our trusted vendors is Fuel Made and they designed our website, as well as set up our email flows. They are great at hitting timelines and delivering on what we ask. That being said, we do design mockups in-house and send it over to them; which will help with the production process.
Reviews are crucial to the success of an online business and we are currently using YotPo. Like Shopify, they’ve jacked their prices up over the years which is a little bit frustrating, but right now it’s serviceable.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
It’s as simple as Nike’s motto - just do it. Nothing more than that.
What’s the most influential book you read for your business?
Eat People by Andy Kessler.
Where can we go to learn more?
Our website is beardbrand.com. You can also find us on social media at: