Andrew: Hey there, Freedom Fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com home the ambitious upstart. In addition to being the founder I’m also the official videographer, the equipment setter upper, and all the other stuff here. We were going through trying to decide if I use this camera or the one built in today. What do I do? Anyway I’m glad it all worked out because I want to introduce you to today’s guest. Which really is the most important part of my job here: to make sure you know why you should be listening to this interview. Today’s guest is a guy that started out by blogging and posting videos about beards. Yeah, the stuff on my face and the stuff on his face. Wait until you hear how he turned that into a business. Eric Bandholz is the founder of Beardbrand which evangelizes the beard lifestyle, and generates revenue by selling beard care and beard related products. I should say very clearly beard, not beer, beard. Eric welcome.
Eric: What’s going on, Andrew?
Andrew: Good to have you on here.
Eric: Yeah! I’m super stoked. It’s going to be a good time.
Andrew: You know most people who would see you wouldn’t be thinking financial advisor. There was a time before you got to live the lifestyle that you love and get to enjoy today that you were a financial advisor for [??]. We won’t say the name of the company. We will say that one day they walked up to you, and they said if you ever get any inside information you should do what with it?
Eric: The policy at the company I worked for was to pass along inside information. I’m a very philosophical guy. I love economics. I love the free markets. I love investing. I love everything about that. With the organization I thought about what does that mean? Why are they asking me to forward on this information? It kind of dawned on me that perhaps, and I don’t know if they were doing that or not, perhaps they could take that information and use it. Not to become insider traders, but to be able to react on that information quicker than anyone else because they’ve go the tools and the leverage. It’s essentially like insider information, but it’s all public and legal. Again I don’t know if they’re doing it, but it kind of gave me uneasy feelings.
Andrew: You said that even if you don’t know specifically they were doing it you wouldn’t put it past them based on your understanding of how financial institutions work, after having worked with them, and your understanding that they’re legally allowed to use some inside information because they’re a market maker. Right?
Eric: Yeah and I would expect them to do that. It would be good business on their sense. They’re well within their rights. It’s legal. [It wasn’t] how I wanted to build my career, and what I wanted to do as an individual. I was aware of it. I knew the company could do that stuff. I didn’t think it was right. Not to say if it’s right [or wrong], but for me personally I didn’t think it was right. I think it was good for me to move to my next endeavors.
Andrew: You continued to work for them for roughly a year, right?
Eric: Yeah, it was probably a little over a year. A year and a half or something like that. It was a real short period of time.
Andrew: Then you decided to do a Yeard. What’s a Yeard?
Eric: Yeah! It looks like you’re well on your way. You just have to give it a couple of months. A Yeard is year long of facial hair growth. It’s putting your razors down, putting your trimmers down, and just letting the beard grow. I think all men should do it at least once in their life. You’ve got, hopefully, 80 years plus on this planet you might as well have one of those years with a giant beard.
Andrew: Eric, did you do this while you were working as a financial advisor?
Eric: I didn’t have the gumption to do it while working.
Andrew: So you quit before you set off on this Yeard?
Andrew: You quit just because you didn’t believe in the ethics that the company you worked for stood for.
Eric: Yeah it wasn’t a long-term plan for me. I’ve been very fortunate to have a wonderful family and a wife who also has a pretty good job. I could take the risk to go out on my own, start my own business, and not deal with the pains of corporate life. Anyone in corporate life knows that you have to make sacrifices with your core values just to be successful.
Andrew: All right. You leave the job. You get off on this Yeard which takes you in this whole new direction. The first step in that direction is [that] you start to blog about it. Why did you start to blog about this experience growing your beard? I wouldn’t expect that would be news worthy.
Eric: Yeah. Through the beard growing journey for me it was more than just simply growing facial hair. It was becoming who I was as an individual. Showing the world this is what I want to do and I’m doing it because I want to, not because this is what society tells me, or my boss tells me, or my wife, or my mom or dad. This is just what I want to do and I want to do it.
Andrew: I see.
Eric: And through that process […] I like learning. I like getting involved. I love mastering everything. I got really into it and I learned like what is the quickest way to grow the beard? What kind of food should you eat? What kind of vitamins should you take? What kind of exercises? All of these nuances.
Andrew: They have exercises that will help grow your beard?
Eric: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Andrew: What’s an exercise that will help me grow my beard?
Eric: Ultimately what you want to do with beard growth is boost your testosterone.
Eric: Of course, naturally is the best way. Doing exercises like weight lifting are going to be a great way to boost that testosterone and subsequently boost your beard.
Andrew: I see. I had no idea. This is the kind of stuff you were writing about. You were also doing videos, which I saw on YouTube. In addition to just talking about it, you’d say […]. Trying to think of one. Here’s a good example of one of your videos. You were making a sandwich, putting mayo on your sandwich and then looking at the camera going “Oh, I didn’t see you guys there”. Then you said “I’m basically taking this beard to Chile and when I’m there I will be drinking some wine and enjoying the food.” That was a post. Why was that an important post for you to put up at the time?
Eric: So much of what we want to build with Beardbrand is more than just selling these products and selling these items. It’s about experiencing the world and becoming better men and doing the things that you want to do in life. It kind of surrounds around this bearded lifestyle, but it’s just one unifying thing to really help push people in their careers and their lives. For me, I’ve always wanted to go to Chile. I’ve never been before but I think it’s kind of the lifestyle that our viewers will relate to and traveling the world […]
Andrew: Eric, at the time did you think you were building a business, or did you just say “No” I’m growing a beard and this beard stands for something more than facial hair and I have to stand up and talk about it. Was it that? Or was it I’m growing a business?
Eric: What happened was I went to my first beard competition in Portland, Oregon in 2012 and I just absolutely fell in love. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a beard competition.
Andrew: I’ve never been to a beard competition. Eric: Oh, dude. It’s something from a different planet. It’s like a beauty pageant for men. Men tend to drink a little bit more than they should, wear funny costumes and just generally have a good time.
Andrew: You know what? I tried to see that old post on your site and the images weren’t coming up. So that’s what made you do what? How did that change your perception of beard, and more importantly Beardbrand, the website?
Eric: Back then beardsmen were thought of as lumberjacks or bikers or outdoorsmen. When I went to this competition, I noticed there were a lot of guys like me that have a background in financial services or design. More kind of working professionals, white-collar professionals. Rather than waiting for someone else to unite the community, I thought I’ll go out there. So we coined the term Urban Beardsmen for men who care about not only their facial hair but their style, their careers, their independence.
Andrew: Their eyebrows.
Eric: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: You talk about how to keep your eyebrows in control.
Eric: Yeah, just looking good and taking care of yourself.
Andrew: Was it about a business or was it about a message?
Eric: No. For me, I’ve always had this vision of a united community and creating a brad, like Beardbrand, that would sell […]. I don’t want to say sell to these people, but enhance their lives.
Andrew: Gotcha. I see. So it’s about building the message first, but you knew there would be a business afterwards?
Eric: Well I didn’t know at the time. For me, so much of business is finding a good partnership and other people you can work to build a good business. I’ve started several other businesses in the past where I was 100% owner and they quickly fluttered. I hit that hard block in the road and I wasn’t able to bust through it, but with our partnership and our team here […].
Andrew: Is the original partnership […]. I’m looking at the website. It used to say […] It is […] Hang on a second. I like the way you said it. It says “This website was created by the bearded Eric and the beardless Jon.” Jon Reisinger.
Eric: That was when we started the community, way back in 2012. What happened was that we were creating it and blogging about it, but life kind of got ahold and it went on pause. Really nothing happened for a while. After going to a certain weekend event, I was able to connect with Lindsey and Jeremy, who are the current founders of Beardbrand. And with them, we were able to stay focused and stay committed, and grow the business and build the business.
Andrew: Okay. At what point did the New York Times contact you? Before or after this trio developed?
Eric: It pretty much coincided with it. Yeah, the three of us were working, trying to build another business that was fluttering as well, and I told them, you know, rather than work on this business, I’ve got the New York Times people who want to interview me for this quote, why don’t we try to take advantage of that? Come together and throw up an e-commerce website with a couple items that will work for our audience. If it takes off, we’ll put more time into it. But if it doesn’t, then we’ll go on our merry way.
Andrew: Why did the New York Times contact you?
Eric: Again, it goes back to creating those videos, and writing about the bearded lifestyle.
Andrew: And they were writing about beards, because I remember there was a period where the New York Times really started to cover it. There was a first person account of a guy who wears a beard for the first time, what it’s like to go around Brooklyn in a beard, and I guess you were one of the people they contacted for an article like that. That’s what got you to think about turning this into a business, as opposed to this other business. And then you started with a store. This store, was it Shopify right from the start?
Eric: Shopify’s awesome. I highly recommend it.
Andrew: Why? I’m looking at one of your previous sites. Am I pronouncing it right? It’s Sovereignty?
Eric: Yep, Sovereignty.
Andrew: That was your WordPress development shop. $1000 minimum to hire you, websites start at $5000. Why did you use Shopify? That’s not a WordPress-based tool?
Eric: Yeah, but Shopify just makes it simple to create and to scale. For me personally, WordPress is a great platform, and we use it for our blogging. But with the e-commerce functionality you have to add these plug-ins, which as you know, WordPress will update on a regular basis, about every month it seems like, and then those plug-ins will break. Then your website breaking, and your always fixing it.
Andrew: I know what you mean, especially when you add plug-ins that don’t directly relate to the main mission of WordPress. We actually hire a team here at Mixergy to check every plug-in before it gets updated to make sure that it doesn’t break and make sure that before we even update WordPress that the plug-ins that we care about don’t break. Yeah, I get it. Okay, so you launch on Shopify.
Eric: Yeah, the beauty with Shopify is it allows me to focus on growing the business. Not working on the website. If I’m working on the website, I’m not talking to our audience, I’m not growing our business. Shopify’s a great tool for that. We started very meager, and we only had two or three products on our website.
Andrew: What were those products?
Eric: It was a couple beard oils, and a moustache wax. There’s actually a different line, it wasn’t even our own line at the time.
Andrew: How did you find the products you were going to sell?
Eric: Being immersed in the community. You run across a lot of different products out there, and got contacted by the manufacturer of it. So I had known about in advance.
Andrew: They contacted you and said, will you sell this to your community, you said sure?
Eric: Not even sell it, but just to share it with our community.
Andrew: I see.
Eric: I reached out to him, and asked if he would be interested in wholesaling a product, and he was on board. It was great. A great way to start with very little risk, very little cash up front.
Andrew: This is the Woodsman Brand?
Andrew: Okay. The products were selling for like, here’s what I see from the early days. Morocco Beard oil, $20; Beard Oil, $20; Woodsman moustache wax, $12.50. These are really low priced items. If you finally get a customer, you sell them beard oil for $20, you’re not going to get another rebuy for maybe even months.
Andrew: That’s a pretty tough way to sell. How did your original sales go?
Eric: For me, I thought they were fantastic. I mean I was totally driven. In our first month was, the first full month was 900 bucks in sales.
Andrew: That’s pretty impressive.
Eric: Yeah, I was totally stoked about that.
Andrew: 900 bucks selling $20 items, that’s really impressive. How did you sell the first items?
Eric: The very first order, ironically, was the first customer of mine at Sovereignty. I just posted on Facebook, and she ordered. And that’s like the most thrilling experience, for any entrepreneur.
Andrew: Why do you say she ordered? She’s not growing a beard, is she?
Eric: No, it’s for her son. We got a lot of female shoppers on our store.
Eric: It is kind of ironic that it was a woman, not a guy, that placed the first order. It was fun, so we did get a few orders from the New York Times article.
Andrew: Mm-hmm. And these sales didn’t happen until the New York Times article. You started selling before the New York Times article was published. You knew it was coming and you said, “Let’s start taking advantage.”
Eric: Yeah. One day. So, I launched the website the day before the article.
Andrew: And that’s the beauty of actually selling somebody else’s products. You don’t have to formulate your own products, create your own design, your own packaging. What you had do was sell the product and ship it out to your customers. How much money did you have to pay to buy the product? Did you buy it in advance?
Eric: Yeah. We bought it in advance, but it was only in a couple of days before the article. So, the product hadn’t arrived to us. But we had very low minimums with this vendor and it was only 10 bottles, or something like that.
Eric: We only had a one hundred or two hundred dollar investment and then with the Shopify store it’s 30 bucks. So, for less than two hundred bucks we were able to get our business off the ground.
Andrew: This is a tough thing to do, to keep supply and demand in check. If you have to buy the bottles and keep them there, you don’t want spend too much money on the bottles because then most of your money is just sitting in bottles that you can’t turn into cash for a while. But, you don’t want to buy too little, talk about that as an issue.
Eric: Yeah. As we’ve grown, and it’s still an issue, and I foresee it always being an issue, managing supply and demand and then of course efficiencies of scale and being able to implement new technologies and machinery and things like that and that high up-front cost. And in the long-run it’s going to lower your costs, but it’s just a fine balance. And we try to stay as lean as possible and as boot-strapped as possible, so keep all the business working. Any dollar that it can have going toward, reaching out to our audience and reaching out to our customer base is going to be a good dollar spent. And with everything else we want to be as lean as possible and as efficient as we can. And it’s a struggle, and it’s not something I do well and we’ve brought on an operations person to handle that for us.
Andrew: Well, I’m doing this a lot with my shoulders because I have a baby now. And I wanted to, my wife and I both, wanted to fully get exercise in this weekend. But she’s still kind of recovering from the pregnancy. So we decided to go walk to our friend’s house, walk the two or three miles to get there. We knew that there were going to be a lot of San Francisco hills on the way over, and we said “Let’s do it anyway,” and then we walked with our friends and then we walked back home. And when I was done pushing that stroller for seven-and-a-half miles, according to the app I used to check, up and down those hills my back started hurting. It still hasn’t recovered.
Eric: How old is your baby?
Andrew: Born in May. Roughly four months, now.
Eric: And I’ve got a nine-month-old.
Andrew: Is your back doing okay?
Eric: It went out for a while.
Andrew: What do you do to fix it?
Eric: I don’t know. Exercise.
Andrew: Yeah, I was thinking maybe I should be focused on some back-based exercises.
Eric: I think it’s just strengthening that core. So a lot of sit ups and planks and push-ups and rowing. I used to be a rower in college. That’s a good sport for you.
Andrew: That’s the last time things really hurt for me. I started rowing when I lived in Washington, D.C. And I didn’t learn form really, I just took a single lesson. I went out there and I’d do it every day after, well not every day. I did it as often as I could. My back hurt, and it took me a while to connect that rowing was killing my back, and probably as my wife was telling me, because I had no form, because I was just doing it.
Eric: Yeah, you do it wrong and it will destroy your back.
Andrew: I was not moving. I thought there was something wrong. But, I want to keep going out there and pushing myself to the point where it could hurt. I don’t mind suffering, it’s worth it. And that baby is going to come along for the ride.
Andrew: Because he’s not suffering. He’s sitting there in that little stroller just munching on a diaper rag, or something. What is it called? The burp cloth.
Eric: Babies are fun.
Andrew: They are!
Eric: What’s his name?
Eric: Shepard? That’s a good name.
Andrew: Yeah. How about yours?
Eric: Elle. We call her Elle, or I call her Elle. My wife calls her [??]
Andrew: Yeah, we go with Shep.
Andrew: I kind of feel like Shepard is the kind of name that warrants a beard, at least, at one point of his life. And, frankly, since he’s my kid he’s got to have high levels of testosterone and that beard is going to start growing probably in another three months.
Eric: Dude, you have a killer beard. You have some of the best facial hair.
Eric: Yeah, and you have the salt-and-pepper beard, which is totally in right now.
Andrew: I was going to get rid of this beard, because I don’t like how the gray is just right there hitting you in the face. You see it, it’s the first thing you notice and I feel like without the beard I just look like I always did. But, I was thinking about it on the run in this morning, because I knew I was going to talk to you and I thought I really like the convenience of the beard. I like how if I’m running out I don’t have to worry about shaving. I just do the touch up here, and I know you advice that even for the EARd. If you’re going to do an EARd wait a little while, let the beard grow in on the bottom and then you can shave it, and sculpt it later on.
Eric: You’ve got a great neck line, as well.
Andrew: Do I?
Eric: Yeah, let me commend you on that. You’ve nailed that, you’ve nailed you check line, like, you’re the model of efficient corporate beard. Like, the tight, the good looking beard.
Andrew: It took me a while to get this. When I first did it, I thought I should let the whole thing grow in, and then I worked with this guy Alex Champaign who said you know, ”I work with you closely enough that I can be open with you. You got to shave the neck part of that beard, it’s a little out of control.” So, I did it.
And here I’ve never talked about this but I’ll say it now. In the years after Bradford and Reed, after we sold it and I had some time to myself. I was just doing whatever I felt like. And one of the things that bothered me was my hair because I have high testosterone that I talked to you about. Would grow up here and it would drive me nuts, there would be hairs here, because I’m not going to shave all the way up here, up to my eyes.
So anyway for a long time I was kind of plucking them out. Then I thought I have time, I have the resources to do what I feel like. I went and I had laser treatment on my face.
Eric: No way.
Andrew: Yes. Which is like having someone snap a rubber band right underneath your eye.
Eric: Yeah, that’s got to be comfortable, right.
Andrew: I had it on my face, I had it on my back, I had my neck, the back of my neck. It didn’t work anyplace except for right here. This is the only place were all those treatments actually helped. I see you leaning back is it a little disgusting that I’m bring this up?
Eric: No, I think it’s great. But apparently this room doesn’t have air-conditioning and I’m down here in Austin so I’m just opening up little bit, let a little bit of air flow in.
Andrew: We’ll find out from the audience if I admitted a little too much.
Eric: But I think that’s great man. I never heard of people using laser treatment for this part. I know just what you’re talking about. How it comes in, that’s got to make your routine a lot easier.
Andrew: You get that great big thick black hair growing out of there and if you don’t think about it, and I don’t think to look at my face that carefully every day. If you don’t think about it it’s just sitting there. So, I start to pay attention and go out of my way to pluck it and, anyway. One place that the laser worked. It was tough, actually I’m such a wuss about this stuff. And frankly, I think most people would be. You have a laser right underneath your eye it’s a little bit shocking.
The women who ran the place had wine from a celebration that they had to launch their place. She said, ”You know Andrew would a drink help?” And I said, ”I prefer whisky or something harder like vodka, but yes wine would help.” And so I had some wine and that chilled me out.
Eric: Well, that’s good. I’ll have to do a video on that.
Andrew: I was going to say, I know that the one about how to keep your eyebrows from growing all over the place. That advice that you gave in that video came from someone in our communities. So I’m putting this out there and maybe someone else, maybe this could be another video for your communities.
Eric: Yeah, so you’re going to be doing laser eye treatment.
Andrew: That could be the new thing.
Eric: Lasers man.
Andrew: All right, you posted up on the site, you do it on Facebook. People start to buy first money 900 sales, that’s still not enough to grow the business to the point where it is today. We’ll talk about what your sales are, what sales numbers are like now. What did you do to grow it up?
Eric: You know, it was just continuing and really it like expanded when I was doing the last year. So created a lot of content. Sharing our story, like I think it was really helpful for us to get involved in a variety of entrepreneur communities specifically the Reddit, Subreddit of entrepreneur was a great communities. Who just like gave us good advice and feedback.
Andrew: What’s one piece of feedback that you got back from being a part of the entrepreneur communities on Reddit?
Eric: Oh, man it’s too long to list but off the top of my head, our first Website was completely different then what we have now. We have this sliding image, and that was one of the first pieces of advice is get rid of the sliding image. And it was like instantly get rid of that and our conversation went up. So it was just like a little change.
And so lot of tips on improving our Website. And then in addition to that by telling the story on Reddit, everyone’s on Reddit or almost everyone’s on Reddit. By telling it we were able to get picked up on Shopify, they wrote a blog about us and other media outlets continue to write about us.
Andrew: How do you tell your story on Reddit without so that people can follow along but not have them feel like your promoting your site every day? How do you tell your story that way?
Eric: Well, it’s really hard on Reddit, because they’re a very skeptical communities and they’re bright individuals and they know a person who’s self-prompting. I would do self-posts which are post that aren’t links to like a blog or to a Website. And then just provide a lot of content and then provide like real information, like they want to know numbers. They want to know how many sales I have, you know, who I sold them to, where the country going to, and they can tell when you’re b.s.-ing them. They can tell when you’re lying or you’re fluffing your business up.
Andrew: Here’s an example. Tell me if this is the kind of post you’re talking about. Post from November 2013: Beardbrand 75k in November updates for our crazy growth. You didn’t link to your site which meant you weren’t getting traffic, but you did link to an imager image of your stats from your dashboard which I guess is on Shopify. Yeah, that’s a Shopify dashboard. Then you did a post underneath it. A comment where you said, “Beardbrand direct revenue seventy thousand, Amazon revenue five thousand, wholesale 1.5, and total seventy-six thousand five hundred dollars. That’s where we were”. That’s the kind of post you’re talking about. Where you break it down for them and tell them how you did it.
Eric: Yeah, exactly. Being a businessman it’s hard. I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I don’t have anything figured out. By sharing the things that I have learned and then by extension taking advantage of the information that comes my way is a great way for me to improve my business. There is sort of some risk out there of people duplicating what we do and us essentially giving them a blue print. But we feel confident in our product, our mission, and our abilities that we’ll stay ahead of the pack. In addition to that there’s a lot of businesses who are outside of our market who are going to get value from it who we’ll never compete with ever at all. It’s just making the world a better place.
Andrew: How do you grow your business this way? I’m looking and yes there is a link within that comment that links to Beardbrand, but it’s kind of buried. People really have to go out of their way to click it. The bulk of this can be read and consumed on Reddit. The link I would be most eager to click on would not be to Beardbrand, or even to the mustache wax which is also linked over, but to your last post. You say, “so it’s been about a month and a half since my last post,” and then you link to that, “and I want to keep you updated”. I’d be more likely to click on that. With so much of the attention going to Reddit and so little going to Beardbrand how do you get real business growth from that?
Eric: For us so much of our business isn’t direct sales. It’s branding. With these posts it’s a great way for us to create a brand. People will think of Beardbrand. Then they’ll tell their friends, “hey I heard about this cool website that’s really growing like gang busters, Beardbrand, you’ve got to check them out”. It’s doing the things that a lot of small businesses don’t do, but a lot of huge businesses do. The Nike’s, the McDonald’s, and the Apples of the world are spending millions of dollars to create this brand and this image. I guess that we’re just one of the few small companies out there that really see the value in that and sees how that can help us grow without directly knowing the reasons for our growth.
Andrew: I see. Reddit, of all social media, accounts for 72% according to SimilarWeb (which gave me an account so I could see this stuff). It’s more popular for you than Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, Pinterest, and others combined.
Eric: It’s a huge platform. The beauty with Reddit it that you can go into your specific sub-reddits which are very [minish] related. Those aren’t going to be huge communities like Pinterest and Facebook. We recently did a survey with our customers and we found that 46% of our customers first heard about us through social media. Within those social media platforms You Tube was our number one generator followed by Facebook and then Reddit was our third.
Andrew: Oh really? Oh for what people self-reported. What your customer said led them there, even though more traffic is coming in from Reddit than You Tube. What did you say Facebook was more or You Tube?
Eric: You Tube was tops with about half of our traffic from social media, then Facebook, and then Reddit. We’re not using Reddit as a way to drive sales. If you’re expecting to get a lot of business from posting on Reddit then you’re probably not investing your time. We did it more for what was going to be beneficial for our business. How can learn? How can we grow? And how can we share information to a lot of people? We will get a lot of eyeballs to our website from our posts.
Andrew: You know what I’m going to go to You Tube in a moment, but I’ve got to address this one post that’s really interesting. You did a post on Reddit that’s now sending you a good amount of traffic. Again thank you Similarweb for giving me an account that lets me see this stuff. The post is: I may be on TV which outfit do you prefer? I click on that and I see an imager link with all of these photos. By the way, dude, looking really good and really sharp in these photos. That is GQ quality times ten because it just feels so much more authentic and that’s what’s sending you traffic. That’s how you’re connecting to the audience.
Eric: That was a big post and that was on the subreddit called “Male Fashion Advice” which, for me personally, was harder not to crack because they’re not too keen on the big beards. They’re more of the traditional like [??] look but it was fun. It was fun getting good advice from them and having them shape which wardrobe I should wear and you give them content too and you get them involved and they’ll reward you.
Andrew The second post that I see on that page is “Weird thing is he really sells mustache wax”. Someone said “Not good” and then they mentioned mustache wax.
Andrew: Interesting. So then YouTube. That’s where I see a lot of your stuff. You were posting on YouTube before you even started selling, right? It was just you talking at the camera about your trip as I said earlier and then you switched to how-to’s. In addition to just fun stuff there’s men’s eyebrow grooming, how to eat with a beard, beard growth tips, mustache wax guide, how to apply oil, beard trimming guide. That seems like your thing. Teaching people what to do with their beards.
Eric: Yeah, yeah. It’s pretty related, you know. Tell them what to do with their beards. Give a couple of shameless promotions and plugs here for our products and then help them out and share with them what I’ve learned. It’s great. You know as a producer of content that people see you as an expert in the community and of course you are an expert in the community and –
Andrew How do you teach this stuff though? How to grow and maintain a beard. I wouldn’t have thought that’s one of your top posts. 380,000 views on YouTube. How do you know what to create videos about?
Eric: I wish there was some kind of magic bullet where I had these tools that you talk about that search for keywords and things like that but it’s just sharing information that I’ve learned and as you learn everything you don’t want to keep it bottled up. I think we were fortunate to hit YouTube at a time when nobody else was talking about beard care. We were the only company that was talking about the issues, how to grow beards and guys who have never grown a beard out, there are questions to ask. Where do I trim my neck? How long do I let it grow out?
Andrew So how do you get those questions back from people so that you know that that’s an issue?
Eric: Well, it all started with the questions that I was wondering and I wanted to find out the questions to them. And as we’ve grown and the community has engaged with us they’ll say “Hey, do a video on this or do a video on that.”
Andrew Where do they tell you that?
Eric: In the YouTube comments. They’ll comment on that. I’m really active on that so I like to respond to them and stay committed.
Andrew I saw the earlier videos and I see the current videos. The earlier videos – I don’t think you know me well enough to let me get away with saying this but I have to say it – the earlier videos looked a little awkward. The new videos look natural.
Eric: Yeah there were phrases that I was still kind of working out. At the beginning of one of my videos I would say “What’s going on, internet? It’s your boy, Eric Bandholz, back again with another awesome episode from Beardbrand. Hope all is going well on the other side of the internet.” I didn’t have that in my earlier videos and it just kind of naturally developed over time, as well as my closing tagline as well.
Andrew The taglines I get, actually I’ll get back to how you do it, but I kind of felt like in some of the earlier videos you didn’t know what to do with your arms. How do you get more comfortable? Is it a matter of doing it over and over until you feel like being on camera is nothing?
Eric: I mean, I don’t think I was ever really uncomfortable with doing videos. I think that I’ve always enjoyed being a performer and doing public speaking and talking in front of people. A lot of it has been learning about how to position the camera and upgrading my camera equipment and sound equipment and going through the paces. While watching your videos you kind of do learn your subtle [??].
Eric: How do I notice them?
Andrew Here’s how I notice mine. I talk very quickly in the beginning and I noticed it and I guess I still do now that I think about it and one way that I recognized it is by hearing who was complaining on Hacker News and then I would call them up, I would find their phone number and I would call them up for feedback. I remember when I got married, a couple of days after, I think it was the day after my wife and I were about to go off on our honeymoon, and I heard her mother say, “It’s good, but he just rushes through this thing.” At the time I was really upset, and then I said, “No, if you want to improve, you have to take that kind of feedback. You can’t just prove her wrong that speed is better.”
Then I said, “All right, I’ll put my ego aside and I’ll take the feedback that will get me further ahead here.” Talk about something like that. How did you improve?
Eric: Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot of, [??], but I’ve gotten a lot of negative feedback, as well on some of my topics. I would go through the whole get on the defense, because if the criticism comes to you in an aggressive way, your natural tendencies are to be defensive. Then, after, like, a few more comments and discussing with them, I realized, “Yeah. You know, he’s probably right.” His message may be bad, the way he’s delivering the message may be bad, but the actual message, or the content of the message, is very valuable and it can help me.
Andrew: [??] something that made you, at first, get defensive, and then eventually come in with more understanding.
Eric: You know, one guy really hammered me about using anecdotal evidence for my perception for things within the Beard community. I tend to have a little more laid back perspective on things, and more of an experiential things. If there is something that I want to come off as scientific, there it’s facts or proof, then I should do my due diligence and research and have valid information, and it will make the video better.
Now, I didn’t claim that it was factual, I owned up to the fact it was anecdotal, but I guess this person didn’t want to hear anecdotal evidence.
Andrew: I see. Okay. All right. That’s fair. And actually, what I’ve seen is good speakers will use anecdotal evidence to keep things interesting, and then they’ll get some quick stat to prove that it’s not just an individual case that their using, but something that represents a lot more. All right.
We talked a lot about a lot of good things here. If all we talk about is how everything went well and you skipped your way to success, the audience is going to really just tune out and not believe us. We have to get to the good stuff. We have to get to the important challenges.
One of the challenges is something that I mentioned earlier. There was a partner on the homepage in the old version, and that person’s gone. That wasn’t an easy transition. It wasn’t like, “Hey, things didn’t work out,” right?
Eric: Well, I guess there’s been kind of two starts to Beardbrand. The first start with Jon. He got a full time job and I was working on sovereignty. So it. . . There was. . . You know, both being entrepreneurs, there is no bad blood or anything. We just kind of went on our own different pathways. Then, the second time around, there was actually four of us to get started. Me, Jeremy, Lindsey and Josh, and all four of us are phenomenal people, and their just. . .
In the early stages, the business was so small that we’re only doing a couple thousand. Josh has another business, as well, that’s doing very well and growing, and we just weren’t on the same page for the growth and the vision and building it. So we did have a breakup with the fourth partner, which is really frustrating because, when you’re working on your business with your partners, you’re not working with your audience and your customer base, and you’re not able to grow.
But we’re all adults with it, and we’re mature with it, and the company was at a young enough stage that there wasn’t a lot of money invested.
Andrew: How do you break up? How do you deal with the formal breakup so that the person walks away and doesn’t own a piece of the business?
Eric: You just. . . For us, it was, you know, “Hey, Josh, we can tell your heart’s not in it, and it’s totally cool, and, you know, we want to maintain friendships, and we’ll go our separate ways, you know, if you’re onboard with that.” For him, he had to come to those terms. He had to. . .
Andrew: After you said that, he had to accept it.
Eric: Yeah. I mean, we said it pretty constantly, and I think, again, when you first hear something like that, your immediate response is to be defensive and to be like, “No, I’m in it, I’m in it, I’m in it.” But after time, you’re able to think about it and dwell on it and grow, and to self-analyze, like how you and I take feedback. It’s never fun, and I don’t think we’re very aggressive with our language, and it was more of a suggestion, but he did [??].
Andrew: What you’re saying is you would say to him from time to time, “Hey, you know what? It looks like your heart’s not fully in this. Am I right?” You’d bring it up without a breakup being the result of the conversation, but at least. . .
Eric: Yeah, like, “How are we going to fix this? What are we going to do?”
Andrew: I see.
Eric: It’s not like, “Josh, you need to get out of here.” It’s like, “How are we going to get through this to make sure that you’re in it?”
Andrew: How formal was the business? Did you have shares that you guys had each allocated? Did you start to have vesting or was it just much more of a partnership?
Eric: We started very informally on verbal agreements.
Andrew: So the time that Josh left it was still informal and you didn’t need to take back shares?
Andrew: Got it.
Eric: Well we did pay him for his time and his money that he put in to it, so that he didn’t feel jaded and he felt like it was a good experience for him.
Andrew: How much did you pay him? So […]
Eric: It was like 500 bucks. So it was like very early […]
Andrew: We’re talking really early days when you did this.
Eric: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Andrew: So here’s another thing that happened in the early days. We talked about the first month $900 bucks. I was impressed that you did that. You heard me even to this day, even though I know you’ve done so much more. That number is smaller than today but it’s impressive. It stands on its own. Then you felt like sales weren’t that exciting. What happened to them after that?
Eric: Well, March was our worst month ever. February was $900 bucks. March was like $600 or $700 bucks, something like that. It went down and we had a period where we had a fourteen day span and only one of those days we got a sale, so those aren’t fun. Those aren’t fun days.
Andrew: Wow. Fourteen days span with just one sale.
Eric: Well, two sales in one day. One day of sales.
Andrew: I see. What did you do to turn things around or did they just happen?
Eric: With business, especially in the early stages, the majority of your time needs to be in sales and needs to be in communicating with your audience. The only thing you can do is create more content, share your work, share the story and build, build, build. Whenever things aren’t working in the early stage, just focus on the things that bring in new eyeballs to the website.
Andrew: Ah, okay. Was it selling more to the current eyeballs or was it how do we get more people in?
Eric: No, no, no. That was not our strategy at all.
Eric: For a long period of time. We view our potential for the business to be really huge. We view this potentially being a 100 million dollar business.
Eric: For us to maximize our engagement from current customers […]. I can only sell so many beard care products to 100 people or 1,000 people, or whatever then number is. I need to get that number up to a million people to get to the goals that I need it to be. Until I can really show that I’ve got a fundamental growth plan to bring in a lot of people, my priority isn’t going to be maximizing current patrons.
Andrew: What do you do to engage people beyond putting up more videos and more content on Reddit and more content on your site?
Eric: We’ve got a pretty broad and diverse marketing strategy. Of course, social media is a big platform for us. We’re on almost all the platforms and on the platforms pretty actively. We do work with a PR company to help get us a little extra publicity out there. We do buy some PBC [SP] ads and we do text-based ads, as well as PLAs (Product Listing Advertisements).
Andrew: What are those? Are they on shopping […]
Eric: When you go to Google and you see an image of a product.
Eric: That’s the ad that we do for that. There are a few bearded communities out there where we’ll sponsor the community or buy ads on the community to support them. Those are big driver but they were early on the growth of the business. There’s a website, a beard related website, which turned a lot of probably […]. I think we did paid like a $100 bucks for a month’s worth of advertising and we got like $600 of sales from it. It was a great way to get off the ground and grow from there. We’ll also give out the product line. We’ll go to trade shows and give our products out.
Andrew: I’ve seen that you do that. Is that powerful to actually […]? I know you went to Vegas to a trade show. Is that helpful? How? How does going Vegas help?
Eric: First of all, the three of us partners, we love traveling. It’s kind of been our mission to enjoy what we are doing at work and being able to travel the world is one of those things. Going to trade shows is an excuse for us to be able to travel the world. With our vision and where we want to go, the company to be 10 or 100 million dollar company, we see that every retailer is going to have a shaving rack and then they’re going to have a beard care rack and in that beard care only one beard care product. We can only grow so much as an e-commerce business and we got to have a physical presence with the retailers around the world.
Andrew: I see. And do you now have a physical presence?
Eric: Yeah, we’re in over 100 locations right now.
Andrew: How did you start to create your own products?
Eric: A lot of research. A lot of becoming an at home chemist and learning what products work well and what doesn’t work well and doing a lot of product testing on my own beard and working with it.
Andrew: Where do you find someone who actually makes this stuff that you are going to test and will reformulate it for you if you need them to?
Eric: Yes. That’s hard. I am fortunate that my hair stylist in Spokane, his brother, works for a company that makes shampoos and he was able to give me a couple of introductions to some companies. We reached out from there and it was really a referral from a trusted friend that got us started. You could probably go to some trade shows where these companies are going to show a hair grooming type of store or trade show would be a good source because you can’t find them by searching on the internet.
Andrew: I imagine I could go to [Alibaba] and have them make this stuff for me. You know, actually [Alibaba] is pretty powerful.
Eric: Yes. We make our stuff in America and with cosmetics and those type of products, I have a little bit more faith in being made in America for those kinds of items.
Andrew: What about this? I am looking at a report here that says that the hipster bread trend may have peaked. This is a trend. Just like for a long time people were growing their hair long and then they started cutting it really short and now people are growing their beards and at some point they are going to want to pull back.
Eric: Well, Andrew, actually what we’re at is this shaving fad is finally over. So the trend of shaving has come to an end. In London, in the 1890’s as many as 90% of men wore some type of facial hair. Whether it was mutton chops or mustache or beard, so what we were seeing in the 1900’s was a complete anomaly. It’s skewed result of what standard man looks like over time and we are finally coming back to the time where men who are genetically predisposed to growing facial hair are just doing what they genetically do.
So I think the harder challenge isn’t with us and convincing people to grow beards because it is part of who we are. The harder challenge is going to be with companies like the Gillettes and Proctor and Gambles who are trying to convince people to be unnatural and to shave their face. And it shows. I think they’ve lost $700,000,000 in lost sales due to people growing their beards out and razor sales being down.
Andrew: Where are your sales now? What kind of revenue are you guys doing today? Let’s talk dollars and sense.
Eric: Yes. We just had our best month ever in August. We broke $125,000.
Andrew: Wow. An average for 2014? How many thousands per month?
Eric: We are over $100,000. I think we’ve done over $840,000 to date.
Andrew: Wow. So over $100,000 is your average per month. By the end of the year we expect to see, at least, $1.2 million.
Eric. I would like to have $1.5 because we are now in growing season and Christmas season, and I think that is going to be really good for us.
Andrew: I imagine.
Eric: I love growing season.
Andrew: So there actually is a growing season. In the fall people start to grow their beards for winter?
Eric. Yes. You get the playoff beards, the hockey beards. You get no-shave November. You get Septembeard. You get don’t shave December. All these things come up and there is the thought process that when it gets cold out you want a beard to stay warm.
Andrew: Okay. I want to talk about two final things before we go, but first, let me suggest to anyone who is watching this and wants a follow-up. I’ve talked to several entrepreneurs on Mixergy who have used YouTube videos to grow their businesses and used ads on small sites the way Eric has to grow their businesses. As a follow up, I would suggest these two programs. The first. Check out what Orabrush did to sell using YouTube videos. They did phenomenally, doing nothing but those little videos that people didn’t take seriously and that they helped pioneer as a mechanism for getting people excited, creating engagement and then selling.
The chief marketing officer at Orabrush came to Mixergy to talk about how he did it. He said it didn’t just happen that we created these fun videos. They are not just fun videos. There is a whole logic behind it. He broke down his process and said anyone can do it. He said if they took this little brush that scrapes your tongue and they made it into such a powerful business. Then anyone can do it and he walked us through the whole process. You know me. I am very anal about step by step process and I got that from him.
The second thing that I urge you to do is check out Max from What Runs Where. He did a course about how to find ads. Ad placements on smaller sites. Not the big guys like Google but the small Mom and Pops. Like Eric talked about buying an ad for a few hundred bucks and getting . . . actually, it was $100, right?
Eric: Yes. It was very, very nominal. It was $100.
Andrew: And you got $600 worth of revenue from it. Yes. Those little deals are tremendous and if you are looking to buy ads, you might not want to start on Google and competing for ad cents. You might want to just say let’s look for these smaller opportunities. For $100 we get $600. It’s not going to make us into millionaires but it is going to bring us enough revenue and enough understanding of ads that we can start building from there. Those are both available on Mixergy and if you want to watch the whole thing, Go Premium, Mixergypremium.com is where you can get over 1,000 interviews and hundreds of courses by real entrepreneurs who teach you how they did it. I guarantee you’ll love it. Go to Mixergypremium.com. I see for you, by the way, Eric, you guys didn’t really start doing your search ads until this year. Roughly May, right?
Eric: Yes. It’s not been something that we’re really investing a lot of money into. Especially early on. We are big on branding and our story is branding.
Andrew: I can see that.
Eric: I know branding pretty well. A lot of the minutiae of ad words is very challenging for me.
Andrew: You are so good at it. Even your fricking Tumblr page is good.
Andrew: Right. Most tumbler pages, especially for companies, pretty much stink. You have yours at tumbler.breadbrand.com but also what is it, like urban something? What’s the URL?
Andrew: Urbanbeardsman.com. It just looks like a standalone site. It just has these cool photos of people with breads and things that relate to it. What did I see, like a steak earlier or a pork chop, that kind of thing. Really well done.
Andrew: Here are the two questions I want to finish up. The first is about your past. The second is about my audience’s future. The past is you were an entrepreneur before you started this. Before you even worked in the finance industry. In fact I heard in the 3rd or maybe the 4th grade you did something with Jell-O. I’ve got to ask you, what did you do with Jell-O?
Eric: You do your due diligence. Me and my friend, C. P. Shaw, we raided my parents’ pantry and got some Jell-O, got some sugar, chocolate pudding, powered sugar and we repurposed it and put it in straws and we taped those straws and brought them into school to sell them. It was the perfect business model. We had no costs, no overhead and it was all profit. I think we made a dollar.
Andrew: So it was a straw full of sugary powder?
Eric: Yes. Yes. It was like competing with Pixy Sticks, right?
Andrew: Yes. That’s right.
Eric: We called it C & E sticks for C. P. and Eric and I think we were in business for about one day.
Andrew: What happened?
Eric: We had one guy buy all the sticks for $1.00 and then we . . .
Andrew: And you didn’t go back and do more of it? Okay. But I heard you did keep a ledger to make sure . . . ?
Eric: Yes. I had this little paper ledger. I think I probably still have it somewhere. At either my house or my parents’ house.
Andrew: Oh, that’s great. You’ve got to post that online somewhere. Here’s where I want to close if off. I want to give the audience some book suggestions so we ask guests for their favorite books or the ones that they would recommend anyone who was starting a startup book club read and you recommended “Eat People” by Andy Kessler. Why?
Eric: You know, so much of what we want to do is [??] and be able to control our own freedom as entrepreneurs and control our own lives and fundamentally understanding what we’re good at as individuals and what we’re not good at. If we’re not good at something and it’s not the core of business we need to outsource it to someone who is good at that and it is their core of business so that has been one of the founding principles of our organization as we have grown and it has probably allowed us to scale up and grow at lot quicker.
Andrew: How did you do that? How did you use the ideas in “Eat People?”
Eric: For example, one of the first things we did, even when we were only doing a couple of orders a day and it wasn’t time consuming at all, we found a fulfillment house to package up all of our orders and send it out. If I am putting some beard oil in an envelope, putting a label on it and putting it in the mail, how can I be growing my business?
Andrew: I see. And that’s when you say, “It’s not about me doing the work, it’s about us having a process that does it for us”.
Eric. Yes. Even more than that, it’s about what am I really good at and how am I going to make money by spending as much time as possible doing that? And then the things that I don’t make money at, how do I outsource it? How do I get someone else to do it? So Amazon’s going to make money by doing fulfillment because they’re a really good so it makes sense for them to put a lot of time and energy into it. But for us, we’re a marketing company, we’re a communications company, we’re a branding company. We need to be doing that as a primary source of our business to grow.
Andrew: That makes sense. I love that as a suggestion. I should say Andy was actually on Mixergy. He was one of the earlier Mixergy guests where he talks about the book “Eat People” if you want to just do a search for “Eat People” on Mixergy and you’ll see it.
Eric: I think it’s great because a lot of people don’t talk about it compared to all the lean startups out there and the other big name books.
Andrew: I usually like to end the interview with recommendations for something for people to follow up. I saw a post about you on your growth on Gleam where they did a screenshot of your email. In the email was both your email address completely visible and your phone number. Does that piss you off or are you open with your phone number like that?
Eric: Is it my phone number on there?
Andrew: Let me see. Should I say what it ends with? It ends in 78.
Eric: Yeah that’s my phone number.
Andrew: They did that. Doesn’t that bother you? Shouldn’t they white that out?
Eric: No one’s ever called me.
Andrew: All right. What’s a good way for people to connect with you if they want to connect with you properly?
Eric: They can shoot a message to me on Twitter is a good way @bandholz. Or if you just Google my name Eric Bandholz use all those ways on there. Everything but LinkedIn is pretty much a good way to contact me.
Andrew: That’s what we found too on Mixergy. If we want to get a guest LinkedIn does not work.
Eric: No, I don’t check those either.
Andrew: All right, thank you Eric for doing this. If you guys have an opportunity and you got anything of value out of this interview take the opportunity to say thank you to Eric. I’m going to do it right now. Thank you, Eric and thank you all for being a part of it.
Eric: Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew: Bye guys.