Eric Bandholz, Founder, Beardbrand
Rise of the Urban Beardsman
How Eric Bandholz challenged the stereotypes of bearded men and built a booming community with Beardbrand.
Eric Bandholz didn’t like being put into a box.
In his former life as a financial advisor at a big bank, for example, he was expected to fit the stereotypical facade of a banker—suit, tie, clean-shaven.
He didn’t like it, so he quit.
With his newfound freedom, Bandholz embarked on an entrepreneurial journey, all while sporting a fresh, full beard. While he loved his rugged new look, he noticed it was happening yet again. This time, he found himself stuffed in a box with the likes of ZZ Top and the guys on Duck Dynasty.
Of course, Bandholz didn’t identify with any of these well-known bearded figures either. And he began to realize that other full-bearded men from all walks of life didn’t fit this mold either.
“I ended up going to this event where I sort of meet other guys like me, like stay-at-home dads and ministers, salespeople, doctors, lawyers, who are all rocking beards and they didn’t really fit the traditional stereotype,” Bandholz says. “So I was thinking about it. … Who are these people? How do I describe them?”
Seeing there was a broad community of bearded men without a home to call their own, Bandholz founded Beardbrand in 2012. Along with co-founders Lindsey Reinders and Jeremy McGee, Bandholz created a community where bearded men could unite, evolving later into a full-fledged lifestyle brand complete with their own beard care and styling products.
With an army of loyal followers on social media, which includes a YouTube channel with over a million subscribers, Beardbrand has grown into an “upper seven-figure business” with ambitions to reach eight in the near future.
Bandholz has come a long way from his suit-and-tie-wearing days.
In the Beginning
In 2011, Bandholz was working for Merrill Lynch in Spokane, Washington, as a financial advisor. It was a respectable career that had a bright future and potential for growth, however, it wasn’t a future he saw for himself once he was in it full time.
Although he loved the work of financial advising and investing, it was stuffy atmosphere and the overall “bank life” that Bandholz knew was not for him. Not wanting to spend another moment in a job that wasn’t a good fit, Bandholz packed up his portfolio and moved on.
The next move?
With a background in marketing prior to his career in finance, Bandholz founded Sovrnty, a startup with a mission to help companies set up marketing automation. Although he had great plans for the business, it never took off.
“I was like one of those gurus. I’d never done it, right?” Bandholz says. “So I’m telling people to do something that I had never really done.”
Unable to sell businesses on his idea, he shifted Sovrnty’s focus to something that he was good at, which was designing and building WordPress sites. Although he was getting some business, it still wasn’t enough. He was pulling together around $2,000 a month at Sovrnty, but he was mainly relying upon his wife and her full-time job to keep the lights on.
Always searching for new clients and ideas, Bandholz was a regular at networking events. And at whichever event he attended, he was always getting called out as one of those cliched bearded figures.
The light bulb went off.
If he didn’t like to be lumped into the stereotypes about bearded men, there had to be others who felt the same. These guys weren’t lumberjacks, roadies, hillbillies, or hipsters, but how exactly would he characterize them? What would he call them?
He settled on “urban beardsmen.”
And in 2012, Beardbrand was born.
The first thing to launch was the blog, Urban Beardsman, which would become a place where Bandholz could help foster a community and connect with other men who didn’t fit the Grizzly Adams stereotype. Beardbrand would soon follow, an organization that united that community of urban beardsmen. There they could also find the tools they needed to feel confident about their beards and personal styles.
But getting from simple blog to full-fledged business proved to be a difficult task.
Although Bandholz was still working at Sovrnty to help make ends meet, he had high hopes for Beardbrand. However, a clear vision on how to grow this new community was nowhere in sight.
“Aw man, it was terrible. It was just terrible,” Bandholz says. “There was just no strategy at all in those early days.”
The community was growing, but it was hardly going viral. He was posting regularly to Urban Beardsman, had a Tumblr page, and posted some videos to YouTube, but nothing was really taking off.
Despite its middling traffic, the blog was the only one of its kind back then, which by default made Bandholz an expert on the topic of beards. Because of its uniqueness, the Urban Beardsman would catch the eye of a reporter at The New York Times who was writing an article and wanted to quote Bandholz.
As Bandholz waited for the Times article to be published, he convinced friends Reinders and McGee to join him and collaborate at a Startup Weekend, where they could share their ideas on potential projects. They originally came together to work on a different startup idea that Reinders had, but it soon became clear that they didn’t have the capabilities to create her software product in house.
Needing a new business to work on, Bandholz proposed his side project.
“I was like, hey, I got this Beardbrand thing and this New York Times reporter is going to quote me in an article,” Bandholz says. “Why don’t we turn that into something?”
And turn it into something they did.
Reinders and McGee were on board, and in 2013 the business arm of the company was born. Without much capital to start making their own products—they only put $30 into the business at first—the team opted to become an ecommerce company that sold beard oils from a vendor with standard retail markups.
“When the New York Times article posted, we were able to get a couple sales,” Bandholz says. “And I think the first month we did like 900 bucks in sales. And then it was kind of like 900 bucks, 1,000 bucks, 600 bucks … 2,000 bucks, 3,000 bucks, 7,000 bucks. And then it just seemed like we got a lot of momentum into that fall season and holiday season.”
After almost seven years in business, which included an appearance on Shark Tank (spoiler alert: they didn’t get a deal), the momentum is still going strong. Beardbrand continues to grow in community, employees, and revenue, and is now located primarily in Austin, Texas with about 15 team members and 120 products sold through their website.
Bandholz, whose main focus is on the creative direction of the company, still has major plans for the future of Beardbrand. They intend to try their hands at branching out to create their own custom barbershops, where they can create the same experience a customer may see in a Beardbrand YouTube video. They do this by not only creating an amazing barbershop environment, but also by hiring the right barbers and stylists and coaching them on the information a customer is looking for when they sit in the chair.
“Customers can go to Great Clips or they can go to their local barbershop and get a really good haircut,” Bandholz says. “But what we want to deliver is that education similar to how we deliver it on our YouTube Channel.”
Whether it is through their popular YouTube videos, blog, or even future barbershops, Beardbrand will always work towards its core mission.
“We’re not just here trying to sell products for vanity,” Bandholz says. “We believe that when you invest in yourself, you become a better person and you make the world a better place. You live longer. … I feel this responsibility that I’ve got to get that message out there as much as possible so that we can make the world a better place.”
3 Content Marketing Tips for Bootstrapped Startups
When Eric Bandholz first started Beardbrand, cash was minimal. He was still working at his first company, Sovrnty, and was building Beardbrand on the side. They knew that they didn’t have the money to pay for marketing, but what they did have was their time to invest in content marketing. Bandholz knew that with the right content and strategy, they could reach millions of people.
“Content marketing was essentially our only option in those early days,” Bandholz says. “We didn’t have cash to put into the business. So it started with sharing our story on Reddit. It started with, you know, reaching out to people on Twitter and sharing our product with influencers and not paying them for it.”
Being proactive with their content marketing strategy in the beginning was a key component of Beardbrand’s success. Here are three tips to help your startup bootstrap using content marketing.
Get Started, But Be Patient
Without a marketing budget, Bandholz turned to content marketing to help draw eyes to Beardbrand. It was cost-effective, with the bulk of the investment being his own time to create the content.
The trick was not only to post content and to post it often, but to also know that in the beginning, you won’t get much of a return on your investment. Content marketing is a long-term play. The first step is to just create something. Anything.
“While it does build up over time, it also doesn’t do anything in the beginning,” Bandholz says. “And you really have to like… stoke that fire and get it going. And you get it going by creating, you know, 20 or 40 or 50 pieces of content that start to build that foundation.”
Do What You Like To Do
With so many different funnels and channels to produce content for, it can be intimidating on deciding where to start. According to Bandholz, the type of content you should produce first should be for the channel you’re most interested and passionate about.
“I think you look at yourself and what you like to do,” Bandholz says. “Are you more of an audio person? Then maybe podcasting’s the way to go. Are you more of a writer, you know, introvert? Do you like to express yourself through words? Then blogging is a great way to go. Then, of course, if you’re narcissistic like me…then video is a great source for you.”
The more passion you have for a certain medium, the more likely you’ll churn out content and stick to the long-term plan.
Not all content is created equal, and it’s important to understand the goal for each piece of content you create. At Beardbrand, they use the sales funnel model, where their “content at the top” is there to bring awareness to the brand, the “middle” is used to introduce the products, and the “bottom” hopefully helps to turn the reader into a buying customer.
“Sometimes we have content that is there to inspire people,” Bandholz says. “You know, it’s not going to drive any sales. It’s just there to help build awareness to the brand. And then other good content is stuff that drives sales and gets engagement, or gets people talking and spreading the word.”
By diversifying the types of content you create, you enhance your chances of attracting different types of readers and content consumers on different platforms. As Bandholz says, as a creator, you don’t know exactly what part of the funnel really “helped them become a customer.” For instance, the customer may have first learned about your company through a YouTube video, but it was perhaps the blog or an email newsletter that really got them to trust you and that turned them into a paying customer.
Whichever type of content strategy you decide to implement, one thing is for certain—just get started. You never know who is reading.
Interview by Nathan Chan, feature article reprinted from Foundr Magazine, by Nick Allen
ATTENTION: We’re excited to announce that Eric Bandholz has partnered with Foundr to teach our newest course, Blow Up Your Brand: The Complete Content Marketing Playbook. Get on the Free VIP Waitlist now to be notified when we launch!
- What drove Bandholz from his career as a financial advisor
- Why his first startup Sovrnty failed to take off
- The lightbulb moment that inspired Bandholz to launch Beardbrand
- How Bandholz leveraged content marketing to grow his business on a tight budget
- The struggle to grow the community into a full-fledged business
- How Beardbrand eventually caught the attention of The New York Times
- The partnerships that helped Bandholz start selling beard grooming and styling products
- From investing $30 into an ecommerce business to making 7 figures
- What Bandholz envisions for the future of the company
Full Transcript of Podcast with Eric Bandholz
Nathan: The first question I ask everyone that comes on is, how’d you get your job?
Eric: Which job? I’ve fired a lot of former Erics.
Nathan: I guess, how’d you find yourself doing the work you’re doing today?
Eric: Yeah. Right now my focus is on the creative direction for Beardbrand and trying to build a team that can, not just sustain itself without me, but to scale without me. We’re in the business for about seven years now and we’ve done a good job building the team and getting the right people in place. But I think we’re a couple of steps away from allowing the company to grow with me away from the business. I’m super excited about that, to be able to do that.
Nathan: Interesting. I really want to delve a little bit deeper on that, but before I do, how did the company start? How’d you come up with the idea? How’d you bring it to life? Man, you’ve got a really godly beards, so obviously you were looking to scratch your own itch or… Talk to me about that.
Eric: Yeah. The journey starts way back in actually 2010 or 11, I used to be a financial advisor at a big bank and banks, especially back then, had a very conservative style to them. While it wasn’t written down rules that you can’t have any facial hair, it was strongly implied that you wanted to have no facial hair, wear a suit and tie. That wasn’t me. I really hated working at the bank. I love financial advice, I love investing, but the bank life was not for me. I quit working there and I started growing my beard out, this was 2011. I was trying to start some other businesses on the side and I would still go to networking events, and always at the networking events they would be like, “Hey Duck Dynasty, or ZZ Top, or Grizzly Adams.” These are all cool, historically notable bearded guys, but they’re not me. They’re not the type of person that I identify.
I’ve always viewed myself as an entrepreneur, or a designer, or a business person, and I didn’t like being boxed into this other image. It went from one box to the other box. I ended up going to this event where I started meeting other guys like me, stay-at-home dads, ministers, salespeople, doctors, lawyers who are all rocking beards, and they didn’t really fit the traditional stereotype. I realised there was this community of people out there who didn’t fit the traditional stereotype. I was just thinking about it, thinking about it, thinking about it. I was like, “Who are these people? How do I describe them?” That’s when I came up with the name Urban Beardsman to describe the guys who didn’t fit the traditional stereotype. Then Beardbrand was going to be the organisation that united that community of Urban Beardsman, and gave them the tools they needed to feel confident about their beard and their style.
Because if you think about it, back then, 2011 and 12, doctors, and lawyers, and salesmen, it was strongly pressured to not have facial hair in the business environment, so wanted to change it.
Nathan: Interesting. I think the whole bearded movement has grown as time has gone on. A lot of hipsters, that kind of movement. Back then was that very-
Eric: No, I mean… At least at the time I lived in Spokane, I would be the only guy with a beard at a networking event. Not only that, I had a beard that was a pretty similar length to this back then, so it was very remarkable. When we started with Beardbrand, we started the community in 2012 and I posted some YouTube videos, and we had a Tumblr page, and I had a blog. Then I ended up meeting my current co-founders and I’m like, “Hey guys, help me turn this online community into a business.” They came on-board, we launched the business arm of Beardbrand in January 2013, and we started selling a product, beard oil. At the time I would just get people who would just laugh at me, “Why would you put oil for your beard? Or is it your beard’s actual oils that you’re bottling? What is this?”
It was, the first year of business I’m going around educating people on the product, and how to use it, and the benefits it brings. I still remember the first trade show I went to, my whole spiel the whole time is, “Oh, beard oil is great. It smells great. It makes your beard look phenomenal. This is our number one product.” Then the guy’s like, “Yeah, but how’s it different than this other product?” It completely blew my mind because my strategy had to shift slightly from, “What does the product do?” To, “Why is your product different than other companies?” That was a real shocking moment for me. I wasn’t prepared for it.
Nathan: Talk to me around… You said that you started the community in 2011-
Nathan: 2012. You left your job and you’re building that community. What were you doing to get by and stuff back then? You didn’t have met your co-founders yet?
Eric: Yeah. I got a really good wife. She had a job that was keeping the lights on, the roof over our head, and food on the table. But at the same time I talked about I was trying to start other business. I had this other business called Sovereignty, and I had great ideas to start Sovereignty where it essentially helped companies set up marketing automation. But I was like one of those gurus, I’d never done it, so I’m telling people to do something that I had never really done. Now, I did it slightly cause I used to be in the printing world and it was more of marketing automation for , but I wasn’t able to sell anyone that.
The business actually shifted into what I was pretty good at, which was just designing websites. I’d create WordPress websites and that’s how I was actually able to build a strong relationship with Lindsey, my business partner, because I built her a website for one of her previous companies. She was having a struggle with her web developer and like, “Yeah, I can create this for you in a week for like 1500 bucks using a WordPress template and just getting your shit in there.” She’s like, “Okay.” She didn’t really trust me because she’d been going through this mess with this other person, and then I just knocked it out for her in no time. She’s like, “Oh, this guy’s… he’s legit. He does what he says he’s going to do.” She’s a person who really respects that, and that’s really how a lot of our trust was built in the early days.
Nathan: I see. You’re doing a bit of consulting, service-based side hustle stuff to keep going.
Eric: I make like 2000 bucks a month or something like that, which in Spokane it definitely helps put food on the table and pay for the mortgage and all that stuff.
Nathan: Got you.
Eric: You can’t brag about. You’re not getting on Foundr because of that.
Nathan: What happened next? You met your co-founders. You say… Actually, how are you building the community? Talk to us about that, because-
Eric: Aw man, it was terrible. There’s no strategy at all in those early days. In those early days it was, I had Sovereignty, which was my graphic design business. Then I had Beardbrand, which was this big vision that I had to unite a community, and then I had this beard club, Spokane Beard and Moustache Club, that I founded, then I had StartUp Spokane. I was your typical entrepreneur that had no direction, I was trying everything and seeing what stuck, but realistically I had no clue. We talked about it when I recorded the trailer for Foundr. Man, if only I had something like Foundr in the early days, I would know what I needed to do to have a successful business. I wanted so bad to be an entrepreneur, I just had no clue on how to do it right.
The community, I don’t know, I created like two or three. No, I guess that first year maybe I had six videos on YouTube and we grew to like 300 subscribers. When I say community, it’s still very modest. Then the blog article wasn’t really getting any… the blog wasn’t really getting traffic, but it was the only blog out there and some reporter from the New York Times found it and then all of a sudden I was the expert because I was the only guy talking about beards.
Nathan: Wow, crazy.
Eric: Yeah, it’s a little bit of luck, but also taking that risk to talk about something you’re passionate about regardless if the audience is out there or not.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow. Interesting. You then met Lindsey through-
Eric: Yeah. A funny story about how Lindsey, and Jeremy, and I met. Lindsey and Jeremy are my co-founders. I met Lindsey first through Spokane Society of Young Professionals, just a networking event in Spokane. Then I had met Jeremy separately through another one of my projects which was Society of Libertarian Entrepreneurs. In a true fashion, Jeremy came to the coffee shop where we were meeting at to attend a Twitter meetup. He came for the Twitter meetup and just saw us talking about libertarian entrepreneurship kind of stuff. He was like, “I’m going to stick with you guys, screw those Twitter people.” I learned about him and he’s a pinnacle in the Spokane market with his business. He has a carpet cleaning business and he’s just an amazing entrepreneur.
I really enjoyed Jeremy, and I really enjoyed Lindsey, and then I talked to Lindsey about Jeremy. Lindsey had used Jeremy’s business, but she had gotten a lousy employee who did a bad job, and she told me about that. She’s like, “Jeremy runs a terrible business with Zerorez. They did a terrible job.” I knew that and I told Jeremy when I first introduced Jeremy and Lindsey together. I’m like, “Hey Jeremy, this is Lindsey. Your company did a terrible job with her. I’m glad you guys can meet.” It was the most awkward introduction. Then Jeremy went and did the right thing. He told her about the employee and how that employee is no longer with the company. He was disgruntled and went ahead and redid the cleaning for free and earned her graces from there. That’s the start of our relationship, how we realised we get along well, we know how to solve problems, we’re true to our word. Then ultimately I convinced them to do a Startup Weekend. Have you ever done one of those?
Nathan: No. But I heard of it. Very familiar.
Eric: Oh dude, for any new entrepreneur out there, it is one of the most amazing things and it really started to turn on my light bulb for how entrepreneurship works and how you feel ownership over the projects you’re working on. We worked together on one of Lindsey’s ideas. It was that Startup Weekend that we found out that we worked well together on this project. The project we didn’t really have the capabilities and the resources to do in-house. It was a software app and none of us were software developers. I was like, “Hey, I got this Beardbrand thing and this New York Times reporter is going to quote me in an article. Why don’t we turn that into something?” They’re like, “Okay.” No, they knew what they’re getting into. But yeah, that’s the long introduction as to how we started our business, started our relationships.
Nathan: Amazing. How’d you come up with the oil? Because that’s, still to this day, one of your flagship iconic products. I said to you over email, I had a moustache for a small period of my life a couple of years ago. My girlfriend made me get rid of it she couldn’t stand it anymore-
Eric: Oh man, I need to have a word with her. What’s going on here?
Nathan: But when I did, what do I do? I go to Beardbrand, I bought all the products, I even bought the brush. I bought the stuff that make it smell nice. I bought the special twirling, I could twirl it. I think I showed you pics man. The oils was the first product, which is one of your best sellers. How did you come up with that idea? What was the process there?
Eric: Yeah, in those early days, bootstrap. I was bootstrapped to the T. Legitimately we had spent $30 into the business and I had a vendor supply our product. I said, “Hey, I want to buy like $100 of product.” But we actually started getting sales before I had written him a check for that product. We were simply a e-commerce business to start off. We were just selling someone else’s product, and that allowed us to be super lean. We started making money then of course just had your standard retail markups, keystoning it. Mark it up 100%-
Eric: No, it’s his product, his brand. Yeah, we totally started with someone else’s company. Then I’d used the product for a while, it’s a great product, it smells phenomenal. But I thought we could make our own product. We ended up making our own version that would really compliment that other product because we intended to carry both products. That oil was like a little bit heavier and it had probably a longer lasting fragrance and a little bit higher sheen, but I wanted a beard oil that you could feel it less in your beard. It wasn’t as oily, it wasn’t as greasy, a little bit lighter weight oil. We formulated it slightly different and developed our own fragrances, and we sold them side by side for a long period of time. Then that’s really how we got started in the product business.
Eric: Making our own product.
Nathan: How’d you get your first customer with the other product?
Eric: What’s funny is, the first customer I had in my graphic design business was this random woman in California. I don’t even know how she found me, on LinkedIn or something like that. I had done some logo graphics for her. I don’t even really know who she is. Then I posted on Facebook the day before the New York Times article went live and I said, “Hey, check it out. We got a brand new site.” I guess we are connected on Facebook and she bought it for her son or something. My first customer for two of my businesses was the same person, and I have no idea really who this person is. She’s not a friend or anything like that.
Nathan: It’s crazy.
Eric: When the New York Times article posted we were able to get a couple of sales, and I think the first month we did like 900 bucks in sales. Then it was 900 bucks, 1000 bucks, 600 bucks, and then 2000 bucks, 3000 bucks, 7,000. It just seemed like we really got a lot of momentum into that fall season and the holiday season.
Nathan: Interesting. Let’s talk about, fast forward to now, seven years, eight years later?
Eric: Yeah. I mean, what year are we in? 2019 and we started 2013. We’re on year number seven, I think. We’ve had six full years.
Nathan: Can we talk- … about traction? How far you’ve brought the brand now. Anything you’re willing to share, the traction and where you guys are at now. Starting from there to where you are now.
Eric: Yeah. We’re still a seven-figure business, seven-figure business I’m trying to get it into eight figures. We have a team of about 15 team members located primarily in Austin. We do have one guy located in the UK. Lindsey is in the day-to-day business with me. Jeremy’s more of like a board member and that’s how it’s been from day one. We’ve maintained that. Then we do, about half of our distribution is direct on our website, beardbrand.com and then we have a major retailer in Target. We have exclusivity with one of our product offerings and they distribute those products in all their stores in America.
Nathan: Interesting. When it comes to… You were on Shark Tank. How did all that come about? Talk to us about that experience-
Eric: Oh yeah. Shark Tank. You should do it.
Nathan: Was it worth it?
Eric: Yeah, I’d do it tenfold over. I thought it was a great experience.
Nathan: You got a lot of sales?
Eric: Yeah. I mean, for us it was a lot of sales and I was able to get exposure to a national audience. I still get people who talk about how they found out about us from Shark Tank and a lot of us tell our story and really the story of what we think the Urban Beardsman is and beard care should be, which boxed out a lot of our competitors from getting on the show as well, so we’re excited about that. Spoiler alert, we didn’t get any deal. We didn’t even get an offer, which I thought was pretty crazy because in the research, what we had done from a sales performance was better than 95% of the people who had been on Shark Tank, and to do it completely bootstrapped is unheard of. But to each their own.
Nathan: But it was a good experience, the sharks. Because I haven’t seen it, it was good experience.
Eric: Oh, yeah, yeah. I think the producers of the show were very transparent with what to expect. They were very clear, they left me as the entrepreneur to make the choices and make the offers that I wanted to make. They prepared me well. The sharks, I think the only thing I wasn’t quite prepared for is, when you get on there, you deliver your pitch, and then they start talking. The first thing I wasn’t expecting was that they would interrupt my pitch. Then the second thing I wasn’t prepared is all five of them talk exactly at the same time, so they’re all trying to get word in. If you watch the show, sometimes you’ll see people go around like this. It’s like, okay, that makes sense. They’re not lost or confused, it’s because five people are talking at once and they’re trying to… who of the five people are you going to focus on?
For me, we had a strategy to go in with either Daymond as our top shot, and then Mark Cuban as our second shot. We gave priority to Daymond for that, so whenever he would talk we would answer his questions first. I think, for any people who want to be on Shark Tank, take that as a lesson. To come in with a strategy like that, to highlight the people you want to do a deal with, and make sure you give them priority. Make sure that they feel like they can be invested in your brand and what you’re trying to do.
Nathan: Yeah. When it comes to Shark Tank, I’ve heard that if your show airs or something, “Do they get a percentage or something like that?”
Eric: No, that was season one and maybe season two, but Mark Cuban asked them to change it. That was changed very early on, so I didn’t have to worry about that at all.
Nathan: Got you. Awesome. Talk to me around… You said to me offline before we started, you’ve got some crazy ambitions and plans. You wanted to start a barber shop.
Nathan: Yeah. Talk to us about that, why? I said to you as well, I’m saying, this is something that a lot of e-commerce companies are doing to really build a very, very strong relationship with their audience. If you look at like Glossier or Everlane, they start online but then they have these either pop ups, or these flagship physical stores where they get people to come in, try the product, and they build this really, really deep relationship. I think Apple was a great example of that. They have these incredible flagship stores where people can go in, they try and it really, really builds a very deep relationship with the customer. Yeah. Is that the play or…
Eric: Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to talk too much about it because we haven’t actually done it, so it’s more of theory and something that we hope to do. But it’s no secret that if you go to our YouTube channel, we film a lot of videos in the barbershop and show what the barbershop experience is like. A common comment that we get in the comment section is people are like, “Man, I wish we had a barbershop like this in my hometown. I just can’t find a barber.” There’s definitely a need of people who want the experience that we’re showing on YouTube and they just can’t seem to find it locally. In addition to that, 2019, today is the world of Amazon.
Let’s be real, if you’re an online merchant, how are you going to stand apart from Amazon? What are the things that Amazon’s never going to do? We’ve knocked out a lot of the things with incredible packaging. The stuff that we send out just looks amazing. We have tissue paper in there, we have samples in there, we have these, we call them… they’re field notes, but they’re just little memo pads that we give to our customers. Stuff that really enhances the brand and really enhances the experience. Amazon’s never going to do that. But sometimes that’s not a big enough moat. Some people just want it quick and cheap.
Other options that we can do that Amazon’s never going to do are experiences. The barbershop experience is a really easy shoo in for us, in theory, to be able to offer and enhance experience. Then of course introduce that audience to our products, and do it in a way that we can control, and tell the story, and make sure we educate them one-on-one. I think so many guys out there are completely in the dark when it comes to best skincare practises or haircare practises. They see these guys who look amazing and they just have no clue at all how to get that look and what it takes.
We want to focus on building a barbershop that can deliver that experience and hire the right stylists and barbers and really coach them on what type of information a customer or a client is looking for when they sit in that chair, or at least with the Beardbrand experience. They can go to Great Clips or they can go to their local barbershop and get a really good haircut, but what we want to deliver is that education similar to how we deliver it on our YouTube channel.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s super cool. It’s another thing. Even myself, when I think about it, I used to go to hairdressers, but now everyone goes to barber shops. It’s a massive thing.
Eric: I think talent is talent and it doesn’t matter the licence if they’re stylist or a barber. In America, I’m sure there’s some barbers and stylists that are watching are like, “Oh no, it’s the end of the world to go to one or the other,” and they do have their benefits, but there are a lot of stylists and barbers who are cross-trained as well, who can do both the razor shaves as well as the fades, which are really popular at the barbershop, but then to do the scissor work as well, to have the complex haircutting abilities if that’s the route they want to go.
Nathan: One thing you said is, you said offline you treat as an MVP. Eventually you might have hundreds if not thousands of barbershops, and it could be a really, really strong differentiator and a moat that you guys can build around your brand. You said you’ve tried a few different things and you’ve tried all sorts of other things. What are some of the things you tried that perhaps didn’t work? I’m really curious.
Eric: Yeah, I mean, one of the things we did early on when we had about four SKUs or six SKUs, we were like, “We’re going to take over the world.” We went to London, and Belfast, and Glasgow and we ended up opening up a 3PL, a third party fulfilment, in Belfast. Belfast? Belstaf? Belfast. We opened that up and then, we also, a few months later, we ended up going to Australia. We went to Melbourne and Sydney as well to try to find fulfilment partners, and then we realised that in Australia it’s like $8 to ship within the country when it’s like $11 to ship from America to Australia. It’s like, “This is crazy. I don’t know what you guys are paying money for you all. Where all that money goes, but it’s crazy.”
Anyways, we did end up setting up our distribution centre in Belfast and it was always like the red-headed stepchild for us. A lot of times products would be out of stock there. Then as we launched new products, maybe we’d have it for the American market, but wouldn’t have it in the UK market. We thought that people in Europe would just simply buy the same way that Americans buy. We found that languages are different. I mean, who knew that, in France they don’t speak English, they speak French? We thought, “Oh yeah, we’ll just be in Belfast and just serve all of Europe and they’ll all buy the same.” We realised that that market is a lot more complex and it requires a lot more investment. As our SKUs got significant, like we’re up to 120 skews, managing that, and the logistics of that, and having multiple fulfilment centres was just too much for us, so this year we pulled out.
Speaking of things that we’ve pulled out. We used to sell on Amazon through a third party. We were able to pull out of Amazon last year and that was a great boost to our business as well. I think we’re one of the few companies out there who’s like, “Oh yeah, we pulled off Amazon and doubled our online sales.” It’s not very common in the e-commerce space to not be on Amazon.
Nathan: You’re saying you’re not on Amazon no more?
Eric: The only thing that you can buy from Beardbrand on Amazon are either stolen goods, counterfeit products, or arbitrage plays where they’re buying it from our store and reselling it on Amazon, so you’re just paying up the wazoo. But the reason why is, people would buy… they would come and search for Beardbrand products like let’s say our Tree Ranger Utility Balm. They would first search on our store and then they’d go to Amazon, which I think is a very common trait for a lot of people. They’d find that product on Amazon, and then Amazon would recommend XYZ company brush or XYZ company comb, and they’d buy this other company’s products and our utility balm, and then they would go on their day in life.
What happens is, on Amazon we’d have like a $25 average order value, whereas if we didn’t sell on Amazon and they could only get it from beardbrand.com, then they buy our utility balm, and then they buy our brush, and our comb, or the other products that we’re also offering. We have like an average order value of like around 50 bucks for our store, which is significantly higher than on Amazon. Simply, keeping those customers who are our customers, they’re searching for our brand, and then not paying Amazon for that commission-
Nathan: Yeah, margin. Yeah.
Eric: To be fair, if you’re not very strong in your brand, if you’re not doing content marketing, then you’re not going to be afforded that luxury. You need to be able to create your own brand where people are actually searching for your product, otherwise you’re always going to be tied into the sales performance of Amazon. To be fair, I know of other companies in our space who, they can tonnes of money on Amazon. It’s a great place to make money and I don’t want to discount it, but it doesn’t have to be the way to go if you want to build a brand, if you want to build content marketing, if you want to bring a lot of value to your customers.
Nathan: Yeah. That’s a good segue. Let’s talk about content because, average order value of $50, a lot of companies, and a lot of people they get into the e-comm space, they just want to do pure media buying. Some of the best media buyers out there are people that are doing Facebook ads and buying media for e-commerce businesses because the margins are so thin. But with the average order value of around $50, that can be tough to make margin. You’ve got a few different options. You can either do influencer marketing via social media, or you can do content marketing, which is… it’s similar around that same path around content. That’s something you’ve done very, very well, and effectively it’s allowed you to pay $0 to acquire customers. Obviously, you’ve got-
Eric: Our time.-
Nathan: Yeah, you’ve got-
Eric: We’ve to pay for our time.
Nathan: Yeah, you’ve got to pay for your time, but you’re essentially creating these assets. You’re planting these seeds and over time they grow. That’s what I love about YouTube, which is something that we’re really trying to get into now is, there’s just so much more shelf life when you create a video. We created a video which was an interview that we did like six, seven months ago and it’s got over 200,000 views. That’s just a gift that keeps giving. You guys have got over a million subscribers just on YouTube alone, a few hundred thousand on Instagram. You’ve probably got quite a decent amount of traffic going to your blog. This is traffic that’s all coming organically, that you not paying for, and it’s really high intent-based quality traffic. When I say traffic, these are people that are interested in your products, so it’s an incredibly powerful way. You feel that vibration.
Eric: Did you just get an order?
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, yeah-
Eric: Shopify. All right. Give me some money.
Nathan: Basically, let’s talk about that. If people want to get started, they’ve got an e-commerce business, or they’ve got a product that isn’t a high ticket product and they want to use content, how can they get started? What channel do you choose? Is it Instagram? Is it YouTube? How do you know what channel to choose?
Eric: Yeah, I mean. To give some concrete numbers, I ran into a guy who was selling apparel and we talked about media buying or Facebook ads. He’s willing to spend 125 bucks to acquire a customer whereas on our end with a $50 AOV, for us to be profitable we’ve got to spend like 25 bucks. Yeah, you could factor in customer lifetime value, but as a bootstrap company that’s not sitting on piles of cash, we’ve got to be a little more conservative, or I prefer to be a little more conservative so we try to keep it around that $25. If everyone’s paying $125 to acquire customers, it’s just not going to be possible for us in the long run.
Content marketing was essentially our only option in those early days. We didn’t have cash to put in the business. It started with sharing our story on Reddit. It started with reaching out to people on Twitter and sharing our products with influencers and not paying them for it. It’s like, “If you like it, talk about it. If not, I understand. That’s fine. That’s cool. I’m not going to bug you.” Then of course on YouTube, creating content, that’s the only thing we could really do. It really is like compounding interest, financial advisor in my past life. I love the power of compounding interest and content marketing is like that. It gets stronger and stronger every single year the more content you crank into it, and it starts to stand on itself.
YouTube has been such a big driver for us. We’ve done a post-purchase survey where 65% of our customers first heard about us from YouTube. You think about that. Two thirds of our business, a seven-figure business is coming from YouTube. What we had to pay for that is, yeah, my time to record the videos, I’ve got a video editor, I’ve got a camera man. We pay guests and collaborators and stuff like that, but compared to… I want to say it’s less than what we pay Facebook in a month, but it’s like that. It’s significantly lower than the amount we’re paying Facebook, and Facebook’s only driving a small bit.
Nathan: How do people know what channel to choose?
Eric: I think you look at yourself and what you like to do. Are you more of an audio person, then maybe podcasting is the way to go. Are you more of a writer, introvert. Do you like to express yourself through words? Then blogging is a great way to go. Then of course, if you’re narcissistic like me and you like to be in front of the camera, then video is a great source for you. Going onto the visual side of the introverts, we have photography. Do you like to put the camera in front of your face and then be able to capture the world? Photography is a great way to go. But let me also say that video, you don’t always have to be in front of the camera. You can tell stories, and do animation, and create video in many different ways. Let me say, you don’t have to be a narcissist like me to want to go the video route.
It really just is dependent on what you’re interested in, where that passion is. Because content marketing for it to be successful, while it does build up over time, it also doesn’t do anything in the beginning. You really have to stoke that fire and get it going, and you get it going by creating 20, or 40, or 50 pieces of content. That starts to build that foundation.
Nathan: Talk to me about, I guess, what is good content to you?
Eric: Yeah, I mean good content is the content that achieves the goal that we’re going after. Sometimes we have content that is there to inspire people. It’s not going to drive any sales, it’s just there to help build awareness to the brand, and then other good content is stuff that drives sales and gets engagement or gets people talking and spreading the word. I think it’s important that whenever you create content, you know what the expectation for that content is going to be. We think about it as a funnel. We have your content at the top, that is there to bring awareness to the brand. Then the middle is to introduce the products, and then the bottom is, now you want to buy the products. Here’s how it’s enhancing your life, go and make it happen. Here’s your call to action.
Nathan: You have different pieces of content for different steps of the funnel.
Eric: Yeah, I mean, depending on the medium. If we’re blogging, we have some articles that are like 10,000 words, so you can really have your whole funnel within that one article. But if it’s a video, typically the videos are generally split up based on that content funnel, but there will be integrations into it or at the outro we’ll make a little call to action or something like that. But the main purpose of the video isn’t necessarily for the bottom of funnel, it’d be more top of the funnel.
Nathan: Yeah. Actually, I’m just thinking, I think when I was looking for the best way to groom your moustache or something. That’s how I reconnected and purchase from you guys. I’m pretty sure. Do you have an epic article on that? You must. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, see that’s crazy.
Eric: I hope so yeah.
Nathan: Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s how I reconnected.
Eric: That’s the thing that you may or may not realise as a creator or a founder is that yes, 65% of our customers first found out about us through YouTube, but it was the Facebook ads, or the blog, or the email newsletter that really helped them become a customer. That’s how you think about, “Man, I wish it was just people watched the video and then they buy from me.” But, it’s like going on dates with girls, or guys if that’s your cup of tea. You’re usually not banging on the first night. You got to go on a few dates first and get to know each other. The same happens with a brand and your products, and your customers.
Nathan: Talk to me about all the pieces of content you create. You guys create a lot of content. It’s built a lot of goodwill in the marketplace, in the market that you serve, fostered your community in a big way. What are some of the best pieces of content that you’ve created that has just absolutely destroyed it for you?
Eric: We create so much content, we have 1,000 videos. We take the strategy of quantity over quality. Our goal is to just really get it out there and let the YouTube algorithm grab hold of some of them. We’ll have some amazing videos that just fall flat on their face, that we’re really proud of and we think they’re going to do a good job for our viewers. Then we have some that are, “Well, just throw it up there. We’ll see what happens.” Our number one video is one of those where like, “Hey, we should get into maybe style stuff for our audience.” We had Carlos rip some jeans to show how to do distressed denim. After three months I had like 2000 views and all of our comments were like, “This is terrible. Why would you ruin a good pair of jeans. You’re terrible.” It was like, “Okay guys, we get it. You’re not really interested in style stuff.” Then like eight months into the video it got picked up by the YouTube algorithm and it’s super popular in India and Pakistan, and now it has like 5 million views.
Sometimes, especially on YouTube, you just never know what could happen. But we’ve got some great collaborators. Greg Berzinsky is one of our collaborators who’s produced some great videos for us where he really does a good transformation of his beard and makes it from this bird’s nest messy beard into this very well sculpted beard. I think that’s bringing a lot of awareness to guys on how they can start to control their beard. Jeff Buoncristiano, another New Yorker, I just met up with him yesterday. Great guy, he’s created tonnes of great content for us in the past. For me, I wish there was this one piece of content that just blew it out of the water because then I would just do a million of them, but maybe that’s what we have. We have tonnes of great content that all work in their own way to drive traffic and business through our store.
Nathan: Yeah. One thing, yeah, I’ve noticed you guys do a good job with on YouTube is, it’s not just you. I think sometimes, because we’ve got these big rise of the personal brand, Gary Vs, you got to have your personal brand. But I think that can… you got to be careful there, because you don’t want to have your company too attached to you because then you haven’t built really a scalable asset. This is something that you were talking about at the start of this interview. You want to build a company that can run without you, and I believe-
Eric: Grow without me.
Eric: They can run without me now-
Nathan: Run and grow. Yeah. It’s like Apple for example. Unfortunately Steve jobs passed, that company still grows and prospers. Yes, there’s been some problems with obviously innovation bits and pieces, but still that company is still one of the most profitable companies in the world. I think that’s the job of every founder. They should be able to build a incredible, well-oiled machine that is a value-generating machine. Were you strategic when you have these different collaborators that you’re introducing into the channel, it’s not just fully about you, like a Casey Neistat. Talk to me about that.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. Our core values are freedom, hunger and trust. Freedom for me means that I don’t have to be tied to the business. Of course, if I don’t want to be tied to the business, I can’t be the only personality for the business. Not only that, I think about my family. If something ever happens to me where I die, I don’t want my business to implode because I’m no longer the face of the company. I get a little paranoid as I get older and I’m thinking about death and I’m like, “Well, if I’m going to die, I want the business to still be able to grow and support my family, provide for my family without me being there.”
Yeah, I have no intentions of selling the business, it’s a great business. But if something ever happens where I would want to sell the business, no one’s going to want to buy a business where you have one person who’s the face of the company. You would sell the business and then you’d have to spend the next three or five years trying to get yourself out of the business. If I ever want to sell the business, it’s like, “You give me the check, you have it all. It’s your problem now.” I want that freedom. To me, selling something and coming along with it seems crazy.
It’s been important for us for that one reason, but not only that, to support our community. Because not every guy has a red beard, blonde haired, is tall and skinny. We got bigger guys, we got bald guys, we got older gentlemen who have silver beards. We’ve got brown beards, curly beards, black guys. We have all that type of content to really show, and try to provide value to all men really of all different walks of lives.
Nathan: Yeah. I love it. We got 10 minutes. We have to work towards wrapping up. I’d love to hear your thoughts around anyone that’s watching this and they’re thinking, “Well, I want to start an e-commerce business. Don’t know where to start. Got tonnes of different ideas working perhaps with many different ideas in their head like how you were launching, trying different things. What pieces of advice would you give?
Eric: Yeah, I mean, I’m a big believer in having business partners. I know I’ve talked to other business partners or other people out there who have had horror stories with business partners, but if you can find business partners who align with you philosophically, now that’s the key. You don’t want to find business partners who compliment your work talent. You want to find business partners who see the world the same way that you see the world. If that’s aligned, you guys will be able to solve any problem. It doesn’t even matter if you guys have the exact same skills.
In fact, Jeremy, Lindsey, and I, we all have the exact same personality. We’re all salespeople, we’re all ideas people. There’s no operational person, but we are aligned in the philosophy for what we want to do in the business. Yeah, it means that the business was probably held back a little bit because we’re slow to get systems and processes in place because none of us wanted to do it, but we’ve always been able to maintain our partnership together and support each other. Because business is a long, lonely road, and if you’re in it by yourself, you’re going to hit dark times.
For me personally, when I hit those dark times with my previous businesses, I couldn’t get out. It was, that was it and the business was over. Whereas now when I hit those dark times, Lindsey will remind me, or Jeremy will remind me that, “Hey, here’s what we’re doing. This is just a blip. Is this going to matter in a year?” And you’re like, “No, it’s probably not going to matter in a year and we’ll get through it and we’ll bounce back, we’ll figure it out, we’ll get the right team.”
For me it’s been crucial to have those people. Now, you can’t. What I did wrong for 10 years was, I would try to get my brother to start a business with me. I tried to get my co-workers to start a business with me. I tried to get my dad to start a business with me. I’d be like, “Come on, let’s do it, let’s do it. It’s going to be great. We’ll control our future.” But the reality is, you can’t change people. They are who they are. Yeah, they’ll say, “Oh, I want a business, that’s great. I’d love the freedom. Blah, blah, blah.” Yeah, bullshit. They don’t want to give up the security they have and they don’t really want to grind like is required to start a business.
Instead of trying to convince people to start a business, I learned to just start hanging out with other people who like businesses. That’s when I started doing things like Startup Weekend, and going to entrepreneur-related events, and all of a sudden I’m like, “Oh wow, I’m around entrepreneurs, and they want to start businesses, and they’re willing to start businesses. They understand how we can affect the world and change the world, and they’re willing to take risk.” That was just huge for me. Really, the only reason that Beardbrand is successful today is because I have two business partners who are amazing people. That is the only reason. If it we’re just me, it would be another one of my side projects that never went anywhere.
Nathan: You guys obviously did a test project together, but how do you know that even if the test project goes well, it’s going to work out or…
Eric: Yeah, I mean, I think it goes back to those philosophies, how do you see the world? I mean even, are people good or bad? Things like that. We believe that people are good, and there’s the small percentage of people who are bad. There’s people out there who think inherently people are bad, that individuals are trying to gain and steal from Beardbrand, to find holes in our system. We don’t believe that, we trust our customers. We trust that they’re going to do the right things. Yeah, there are probably going to be bad players, but I’m not going to create all these processes to stop like 1% or 2% of the bad players because 98 or 99% of them are cool, legit, trustworthy people.
Those kind of philosophical questions you want to really gauge out because those are going to be how you solve problems. Is your problem that you’re going to solve more processes and procedures, then maybe you’re going to have a lot of conflict with your business partner. But I do really think that Startup Weekends are an intense way to work hard with the other people and quickly hash out whether or not you work well together.
Nathan: Talk to me about the community and fostering your community. It’s something you’ve done a very, very good job at. What are some things that you guys do quite actively, and did in the early days, that have really, yeah, just helped you build an incredible community?
Eric: Yeah. Our mission’s really been our north star for us, our guiding light. Our mission currently is, we make men look and feel awesome. We believe that when we make men look and feel awesome, they have the confidence to take on the world, to become better husbands, to become better, employees or entrepreneurs, to become better people, to lose weight, and ultimately that’s going to make the world better. We have a grassroots strategy for making the world better rather than some politician at the top telling everyone to be better. We’re like, “Individually if you make the world better, that collectively can help make the world better. ”
That’s our current one, and it evolved from our first mission statement which was, to change the way society views beardsmen as a way to help people embrace being themselves. It’s been more of an evolution of our mission statement. I think it’s that mission statement that unites people. They get behind what we’re trying to do, and they understand. I mean, I just got an Instagram message today from a guy who’s telling me how… It gives me chills how our videos have helped them become a better place. We’ve ended up creating a private community where some of our members have lost like 50 pounds, and it all started with growing a beard out, and watching our videos, and becoming a better person.
We’re not just here trying to sell products for vanity. We believe that when you invest in yourself, you become a better person, and you make the world a better place. You live longer. You have the energy to be a good husband, to be a good father. I don’t know. It’s like I feel this responsibility that I got to get that message out there as much as possible so that we can make the world a better place. Then when I die, I know that I’m leaving a world a better place than when I entered it.
Nathan: Yeah. I love that, man. That’s incredible. Look, we have to work towards wrapping up.
Eric: No, let’s just keep it going. We could talk for hours on end.
Nathan: Yeah, I know. I’m loving it. One last question. Well actually no, two last questions.
Eric: Five more questions.
Nathan: Two more questions. First one is, just best piece of advice. Anything that I didn’t ask you that you wanted me to ask you, anything you want to share? Just parting words of wisdom. Then last one is, where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Eric: I’ve got a few taglines that I love using. Just do it is, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it or not. Nike, it’s a small company, they’re kind of new. Just do it is, a lot of times you get in your head and you’re like, “Just do it.” Along those lines of just do it, progress over perfection. Too often we get in our head, we don’t do things because we expect perfection. We see what Beardbrand’s doing or what Foundr’s doing and how amazing it is. Yeah, but you never saw the crap that we went through to get here, and all of the mistakes we’ve made, and all the poor quality work we made. We’re able to get to where we are now because of all the progress we made from actually just doing things. That’s a huge thing in entrepreneurship is you just have to have that action.
Then, if you want to find out, I’m the only Eric Bandholz in the world, so you can Google Eric Bandholz. Twitter is great for me. If you’d like to see selfies, for whatever reason, of bearded guys then check my Instagram. It’s really low quality work. Then of course, Beardbrand is my company. Beardbrand makes amazing products. If you want to invest in yourself, it’s for your hair, it’s for your skin, it’s for your beard. We have a lot of the girls in our office who are using our sea salt spray, our styling balm, our utility balm. It doesn’t matter if you got a…or not, you can use our products, but especially it doesn’t matter if you have a beard or not. If you are a guy, I would strongly encourage you check out our products, we’ll take care of you, and you’ll see an experience that is unlike anything you’ll get from Amazon or maybe even any other players in this space.
Nathan: Amazing. Look, thanks so much for taking the time –
Eric: Thanks for having me.
Nathan: Thank you.
Eric: I feel so fortunate to sit next to you on the same couch. What you’ve built is amazing and an inspiration to me as well.
Nathan: Thank you, we have an incredible team. Yeah, it’s great to finally connect.