Launching and Growing a Viral Ski Mask to $30,000/month

The Story of Beardo

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hi, my name is Jeff Phillips and I am the inventor of the Beardo beard hat. We started out with one product which is our patented hat with a detachable beard (the Beardo), but have since launched hundreds of unique products and have even moved into branded promotional products.

Beardo really started out as a bit of a gamble and we never really took it that seriously. I knew the Beard hat was fun and functional and that I really liked it, but my friends weren’t so convinced that others would feel the same and actually purchase it.

I really just trusted my gut and went for it. I am glad I did because within the first 25 days of launch we had sold out of our entire years stock of 1,000 units, and pulled in over $40,000.

beardo-product

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I suppose I get my creativity from my Dad and Grandpa. They both were always looking for ways to improve things and generally just liked working with their hands. I’ll never forget the day my dad designed a ‘can crusher’ so that our recycling didn’t take up so much space. He never wanted to put it to market or anything like that, but just wanted it for himself. When he saw that someone had released one a few months later and was probably making millions on it, he was pretty annoyed!

Like Dad and Grandpa, I am constantly thinking of crazy inventions and edits around the house to make life simpler. It’s not something I can turn off, so I started writing my ideas down in a journal. I guess it was just a matter of time until one of us went into mass production with a crazy invention!

The Beardo came about organically and out of sheer necessity.

At the end of 2006, I was snowboarding in Whistler, and it was an absolute chiller of a day. We had made our way to the top of a run called ‘7th heaven’ and I was certain that the wind was going to be the end of me.

I had this old brown knit scarf in my bag and had tied it around my face to stay warm. About halfway down we stopped on the side for a bit of break and instead of taking off the scarf, I just spread a hole in the knit and popped my water bottle through to take a drink… one of our group cracked up laughing because it looked like a real beard!

I got back to where we were staying, cut the scarf up to refine the beard a bit and the first Beardo beard was born! I used it a few more times until I got some better prototypes knit, and the true form took shape into the World’s only hat with a foldaway, detachable and adjustable beard! I did keep the original though and I have been meaning to get it framed to hang on my wall!

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

Though I didn’t have any design experience, I had run a few small businesses before and knew a little about graphic design as well. I also had a couple degrees (B.A and a film and TV diploma) that gave me a lot of great experience and the know-how to do things myself. All of these experiences really came in handy while designing the beard hat because it helped limit the startup budget.

When this really started to take off, I was living in a friends garage to save a bit of money. We had no internet and things were pretty tight. Getting Beardo off the ground with trademarks, patents, and web design was costly, so again I did a lot of it myself and leaned on friends for help when needed.

Truth is, you’ll never launch if you try to get everything all lined up.

I remember that I used to drive around the suburbs with my laptop open trying to find a wireless internet signal that was unlocked! Most of the designing, patents, and trademarks were created in my wagon. I remember one house must have picked up on what I was doing because I had been in front of their place for a week when they started to peer out the window and the next time I went back the free wifi was no more.

The design process was pretty straightforward though, it was easy enough to get an actual knit prototype made and from there I went off looking on Google for manufacturers. My early focus was to stay in Canada, but after seeing the quality issues with the first round of samples and a price tag of more than I could sell them for, I had to look elsewhere. I ended up finding some great companies in asia who specialize in knitwear and went back and forth for a while before deciding that they were a great company to work with.

After getting the patents, trademarks, website design and the first batch of beard hats, I had spent about $8,000 and was ready to launch. I still wasn’t sure what would happen, but I figured that at worst case, I could take the beard out of these really nice knit hats and sell them to a store for cost. That was my backdoor if the whole thing crashed and burned.

Describe the process of launching the online store/business.

I’ve seen a lot of changes since I started Beardo and there are definitely a lot more people launching sites and small brands. I think it’s great and it makes things that much easier to get going, but it also means you have a lot of competition and you need a point of difference. Luckily for me, I had created a unique product so I didn’t have to contend with any similar businesses.

The best advice I can give is that before launching you need to have a rollout plan in place. A lot of people think that getting the site and product made is the hard part and that all you have to do is wait for orders to roll in. In reality, the launch and promotion are the hard parts. Before going live, you should be ready to contact media (local and otherwise), start advertisements, run promotions, send out free samples to bloggers and influencers and keep pushing and expanding your reach every day.

beardo-main

For example, one major undertaking was to search for direct email contacts for all the magazine, Newspaper, TV, and University newspaper editors that I could find. Then one by one, I hit them up and try to get a story, collaboration or even a paid ad.

Below is a short list of some of the neverending projects I would also work on in those early days:

  • Facebook Pages: Write on walls/hockey teams, fan clubs, and ski pages.
  • Bloggers: Find some and pitch them an angle (ie. winter is coming), free gear or reviews.
  • Free magazines to be included in (movie theatre mags etc)
  • Paid Magazine editors (UK, USA, CAN)
  • University/college paper editors - Stories or collaboration/contests.
  • Newspaper editors - Angle: "Lead into winter".
  • Playoff Beard Promos: Hit up hockey teams, shops, etc.
  • Ski Season Promos: Hit up slopes, shops, events, etc.
  • Look for and contact retailers for wholesale accounts.
  • Look into potential of running market stalls and mall kiosks.
  • Daily deal sites: Reach out to them.
  • Tradeshows: Organize and set some up.
  • Google ads
  • Facebook ads

Now I am not saying that you need to have everything ready to go before you launch, but you need a rough plan. Truth is you’ll never launch if you try to get everything all lined up. it’s going to be messy and constant and that’s ok. Just roll with it and keep planning and pushing.

I had a pretty good plan in place but was really surprised when the first order came in - it was from South Korea! It seems my planning had worked and Beard hats were quickly picked up by global bloggers and the media, which was unreal! The best part was, after only one live-to-air interview on the Canadian news, it quickly went viral and more and more bloggers and ‘cool product’ sites started listing the Beardo.

What has worked to attract new customers?

Without a huge media boost, it can be tough to get new customers. I would always keep a list of ideas I had, or things I saw that other brands were doing that seemed to work. That pretty much became my neverending to-do list.

The MOST exposure and returns we have seen were directly resulting from being featured by the big fish like ‘Good Morning America’, our Kickstarter, or our appearance on ‘Dragons Den’ and also having exposure from celebrities.

Some issues I see are things like spending too much money before you have even started. These days you can start with an idea and turn it into millions before you even have product!

A company called FAB (daily design deals) liked our product so much that they used it in their online campaign in 2011/12 which resulted in HUGE social media growth and a lot of sales. One thing leads to another though, so the more exposure you can get will almost certainly lead to more and more. It’s kind of a snowball effect, and that’s what you want.

Out of everything we do, social media and SEO are consistently the best returns for us.

When you set up your website, the first thing you should think about is SEO, and making a list of all your top keywords is just a small part of that. There are some really great google SEO guides out there and I recommend that anyone starting out should take night classes or online course for the basics, like: SEO. blogging for business, HTML, photoshop, photography.

A good place to start for SEO are on the guides that Google provides.

SEO is constant and you need to keep on top of it. Not only in terms of your site changes, but also google is constantly changing their own algorithms and with that, suggestions to improve your strategy. One thing I would recommend everyone do is to start following @SEOMOZ and even signing up for a trial. You’ll learn alot about SEO really quickly and it’s a great way to look into what your competitors are doing too.

How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?

I joke with friends that I thought Beardo would be a short-lived business, and beard hats would be a fad that would be dead in 12 months. I don’t think anyone thought it would do so well, or be around so long. As long as I am still meeting people who have never seen it yet, there is always room to continue.

Today, Beardo has warehouses in 5 countries and has a range of over 140 fun and functional winter headwear products and we are always coming up with new ideas! We do have plans for new products, but they are top secret!

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

As I said earlier, I have seen a lot of changes in the e-commerce space and I think the number one regret I have is not blasting Facebook ads more.

When I first started advertising beard hats on facebook it was just to grow the fanbase as the objectives today simply didn’t exist. I started out with about $10-20 a day and at a cost of about $0.01- 0.02 per fan - it grew really fast!

Back then I thought $70-140 a week was quite a lot of money to spend on advertising, and kinda thought things would stay the same… I was dead wrong. Facebook changed their algorithm and cost per reach, which basically means to get that same fanbase growth you would have to spend thousands a day.

It’s also now nearly impossible to speak to your own fans through organic reach with your posts without paying, so that’s a big bummer. Back when we had 10k fans, we would get 500-1000 likes per post. Now we have 330k and are lucky if we get 10 likes. We should have been focused more on channeling our fans into email subscription as it allows for a direct method for contact.

I think there is no real model for success that covers all brands and products, you really never know what will work and what will fail and just because something works for one brand doesn’t mean it can be reproduced.

You should try everything and don’t be afraid of failure and definitely don’t get hung up on failure. Move forward and try your next idea. If you are out of ideas, Google, follow others or ask around. I think a major attribute of a successful entrepreneur is not just driven but creativity and the ability to think outside of the box, so trust your weird ideas.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We now use Shopify because it is nearly impossible to crash it! We have tried and have even had hundreds of thousands of concurrent visitors on the site with no issues. Not even a flicker.

One of my friends just had her bikini site crash last night because she wasn’t prepared for a big rush of visitors and it’s been down for nearly 15 hours now. Do yourself a favor and go with Shopify.

We also use the Product Upsell App through Shopify as well as discounts, reviews, and BitPay which allows people to pay using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. We also accept Paypal and Shopify payments too.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources for your business?

I really liked the 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris. It’s a bit of fiction, but gets you thinking out of the box!

Besides that, I don’t really look for business motivation. I am more interested in design inspiration, so I just look at lots of strange art, and try to travel as much as possible to open my mind to new ideas.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

If you are looking to start out online, you should remember that simple is better. When designing your website try to make it as streamlined as possible. That goes for product design, packaging and ads as well! Simple is better and trial and error is the key, so keep testing.

Some issues I see are things like spending too much money before you have even started. These days you can start with an idea and turn it into millions before you even have product!

Just look at Kickstarter.com. It’s a perfect place to launch and trial your product or idea to see if others are even interested. If it gets funded, perfect! If not, you hopefully haven’t spent too much and can move to the next idea. We did a kickstarter of our own in 2013 and it was the reason we were able to launch our line of ski masks!

You can also start out on the cheap by selling on a platform like Etsy and try to grow a fanbase and revenue that way before blowing your paycheque on a fancy website.

Things like patents and trademarks are important but easily done without spending tens of thousands on legal fees. Trademarks are especially easy, so before getting a lawyer, check it out yourself!

The most important thing is to trust your gut and go with it. There are lots of people out there with great ideas but who are too afraid to start.

Where can we go to learn more?

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business.

By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

- pat-walls Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story

Share the story of Beardo!


More interviews like this:
Learn how e-commerce businesses are earning as much as $100K per month.