Eric Bandholz is the man behind Beardbrand, a store dedicated to providing skincare solutions for the urban beardsman. His team has grown significantly since he was last on the show and he’s back to talk about how they’ve navigated the growth while staying focused on their core mission.
Eric is a fantastic entrepreneur who is a pioneer in the beard care industry. He shares the benefits and challenges of scaling your team in a way that leads to productivity, why he decided against selling on Amazon, and how launching another company – UrbanBeardsman.com – is taking his business in a new direction.
Andrew: Welcome to the eCommerceFuel Podcast. The show dedicated to helping high six and seven figure entrepreneurs build amazing online companies and incredible lives. I’m your host and fellow e-commerce entrepreneur Andrew Youderian. Hey guys, its Andrew here and welcome to the eCommerceFuel Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in today and excited to be bringing back on today’s episode a guest from one of our very early podcast episodes, almost three years ago I think episode 20 Mr. Eric Bandholz, the man behind Beardbrand.com, an e-commerce store that sells a ridiculous amount of beard oil. He’s done very well and he’s spent about I can mention three years and I want to bring him on for a couple things.
One, to kind of catch up with him to see what it’s been like over that period growing the business, his team has grown significantly. He’s had some successes but also some things that were a little challenging along the path and also talk about a new business that he is starting, a new store that he’s rolling out very shortly. So Eric’s a great guy, fantastic entrepreneur, a lot of personality so I hope you enjoy my discussion with Eric. Eric Bandholz, welcome back. Good to have you on again.
Eric: It is my pleasure Andrew.
A Lot Has Happened in 3 Years
Andrew: It’s crazy. I think the last time you’re on I was looking at it, it was almost three years ago, I think late 2013, you guys had either broken or getting close to 100,000 run rate after being open some ridiculously short amount of time and that was early days for you at Beardbrand and a lot’s changed like you’ve grown a lot, you’ve built a team, does it feel like a long time ago looking back on it?
Eric: Yeah, I mean now that you’re putting it in perspective, I hadn’t realized how long it’s been since we did that podcast show. When you’re in business, it doesn’t feel like you’ve really accomplished anything but kind of when you step back, you’re able to really get an appreciation for how much you’ve grown or how different the business has become. So you said when in 2013 was it?
Andrew: That was like November 2013 I think.
Eric: Okay. So we were just making our first hire at that point.
Andrew: That’s crazy. I mean I think back then obviously your goal was to really grow a big business to do as much as you could with Beardbrand but I got to ask you know looking back three years especially after you’ve kind of grown the team, what’s more fun? Maybe not what’s more impactful and what’s the biggest business but what’s more fun? Is it more fun building a business where you’re running a lot of the controls and you’re crafting a lot of everything within the business personally, or is it more fun to build out that team, be able to invest in growth but maybe have to deal with more issues related to process and team.
Eric: I would probably say the latter because that’s what I’m doing and ultimately I’ve got the choice. My actions really dictate what I want to do and we’re headstrong on building out the team and growing and I think really more than that like I don’t view myself as like a craftsmen as like an artist as someone who just like kind of wants to work on their craft and do it for the love of for us like making beard oil like I don’t have this passion to sit around and craft the most excellent bottle of beard oil we’ve ever created. My passion is definitely, I mean I love what we produce and love what we make but I love even more than that like building the processes and building the team. And I do strongly believe that as we continue to grow we’re going to have much better and bigger effect on society the larger we can become.
Creating a Niche: A Blessing and a Curse
Andrew: Did you underestimate how many people would jump into the market, the beard oil market after you kind of blew up and did well? Was it something you anticipated or was it something that caused problems for you?
Eric: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s something that as a naive entrepreneur who I was…it’s literally like that first year we were a completely open book and I mean almost to the extent that we were given away our formulas for creating products. And I think what we did is we made it really easy for people to get into the space. If they did any kind of research, they would run across my writings.
And yeah you’re right, I mean, it seemed like everyone and their moms started a beard kind of company and we kind of knew that was going to happen to a certain degree because for us to get into the game the barriers of entry were really low. All you needed were a website and a little bit of time to research how to make the products. So it was kind of like a blessing and a curse in the sense that allowed us to get up and running really easily but we knew that was going to happen as well.
Andrew: Do you think the benefits, the marketing benefits, they came as a result of…you’re obviously the more transparent you are…the more you shared, the more people heard about your brand but the more people were able to knock it off as well. If you could go back would you played it a little closer to the chest?
Eric: I’m not one to look backwards and wish we did things differently. I do think our transparency and our openness did allow for a lot of momentum because when we started the company, we weren’t the only player in town as well. And there even other YouTubers out there and other communities with makers on it. They weren’t able to get the same kind of traction that we’ve gotten and I do think telling our story really helped out and yeah, I mean, I would do it over again. I would be pretty transparent about it. I think it’s for me it’s more of my business partners that keep me quiet than it’s me myself keeping myself quiet and I would probably feel pretty confident about continuing to say everything publicly.
Andrew: What advice would you have I mean having you just mentioned when we talked last you really were in the beginning of growing your team, how many people do you have at Beardbrand now?
Eric: There’s 12 of us now including myself and my partners.
How to Start Growing a Team
Andrew: Twelve. So it’s a pretty meaningful growth over the last couple of years. What advice would you have for people who are thinking about going especially for maybe a solopreneur to trying to scale up that team?
Eric: Yeah, it’s not as easy as it looks and it’s three years into it, four years into it we’re still trying to figure out how to scale it up and my mind gets blown by these companies I can you know add thousands of employees within a short period of time. I also battle between patience with our team members and then knowing when they’re not a right fit because as an owner you always feel responsible for the success or lack of success with your team, you didn’t train them well enough or you didn’t give them enough resources and that’s something that I still battle with.
But I mean especially making that first hire, I think as soon as you can afford it and even if you’re still eating ramen, if you’re still barely paying your mortgage, make that hire and stay lean as possible for as long as possible and bill out that team as much as possible, so that you can really just focus on the things that you want to do within the organization whether it is function in like a CEO type of role where you’re setting the vision and the strategy, or if it is you wanting to focus on the craft aspect of it and allowing the other people to worry about like the accounting and the finance and the sales and all that. So that’s the beauty of scaling up that it provides use, you can really become specialized at the thing that you love most in your business.
Andrew: Do you have kind of a philosophy behind your hiring some people I know a cultural fit is one of the most important things. I’m reading a book called The Effective Executive only about halfway through but one thing that stood out to me so far was his approach and his advice to really hire for almost nothing except for just raw skill set and proven skill set and even be willing to accept some negative aspects, culture potentially included in that because you’re trying to really hire people who can get stuff done. Do you have a framework that you use when you hire?
Hiring For Your Work Culture
Eric: Yeah, I mean, I would totally disagree with that person on the basis that you run your business how you want to run it. We don’t have shareholders, we don’t have investors, we don’t have loans or bank owners or anything like that. So it’s important for us to enjoy the job that we’re doing and we spend so much time with our coworkers. If they’re not a good culture fit, if I don’t like working with them, I don’t care if they’re the second coming of whatever they’re supposed to be doing. They’re not going to be working here because I just don’t want to deal with that and I don’t care if that means we grow at a little bit slower pace. And maybe that’s something I’ve come to terms with over the past few years.
But I think for us culture is really important, we break it down to freedom, trust and hunger here and we’ll evaluate each team member to make sure that they are a plus across the board in those culture categories. And then we believe I mean almost in a long-term investment a big thing for us is that they’ve got room to grow. So when you have that kind of mentality you’re not really hiring for skill sets because you know they’re going to grow and build it and take on new roles. And you know maybe that’s wrong when we get up to like 100 employees where you can really have more of that specialization but when you’re a small company still bootstrap in, you need people to wear a lot of hats and you need people who have that drive to want to learn and take on new challenges. But I do understand the theory and the mindset of really hiring top talent and we’ve kind of made a shift from asking people to work for us for less than market rate and shifting into a strategy of trying to be at the top 90% of what the market’s doing when it comes to pay and compensation for our employees.
Andrew: You had the chance to work with Carson over at Fuel made on a website and he’s far one of the best people I’ve ever worked with. You’ve got a brand new website, it looks beautiful and it’s what you launched at what? Maybe nine months ago, maybe six months ago.
Eric: Yeah, October of last year so we’re going on about it a year.
A Redesigned Site
Andrew: Oh wow so a crazy asset to come up in a year, how has that worked out for you?
Eric: It’s good I mean, from a pure numbers play, the new website didn’t really boost conversions. In fact, I probably saw like a small dip in conversions as well and I don’t know how much of that has to do with the hundreds or literally thousands of new competitors that came into the marketplace. So just internal challenges that we are working through but it’s something I still feel like it sets us apart from our competition even if it from a number standpoint hasn’t worked. But yeah, I mean, I love the new website and it’s something that we’ve spun off onto urbanbeardsman.com as well.
Selling on Amazon Through Wholesalers
Andrew: And one last question that I want to hop into UrbanBeardsman, you guys you’re selling Beardbrand on Amazon and how long have you been doing that for?
Eric: Well, technically, we’re not on Amazon. We work with a wholesaler or a couple wholesalers who sell on Amazon for us. We treat the vendors who sell on Amazon just like we treat any other retailer so in a sense that the way we looked at it is we’ve got our manufacturing company. We’ve got our retail company which is our website. We’ve got our wholesale company which sells to our barber shops and salon.
Getting on to Amazon, we would view as a completely different business like is a different mindset, different strategy, different focus and we didn’t want to put resources into that model so we elected to go the route of working with a retailer who has a strong presence on Amazon and there are those retailers are some of our top retailers but it doesn’t…still the majority of our revenues generated through beardbrand.com.
Andrew: So there’s not an exclusive distributor of Beardbrand at Amazon, there’s maybe you could have four or five of your resellers selling it on the platform?
Eric: Yeah, just two. I think we only allow two retailers to do it at the current time. Yeah, and we do have a fear of just like to intense nature that is Amazon if all the retailers got on there and started selling then there’d be a race to the bottom when it comes to price and so we’ve been very selective with who has the rights to be able to move product there.
Andrew: Was that a hard decision because if I was in your shoes it’s as easy for me to say having to think about the broader business you’re running but I would look at that and say, Amazon is just a goldmine for people who have their own brand, their own proprietary product which you do. And yes, there’s some work involved with getting that listing up and managing Amazon but from what I see the majority of the work is actually in having the proprietary product. How’s that better tough? Was that a hard decision because man I would be really tempted to be the sole distributor of Beardbrand on Amazon as the manufacturer of it?
Eric: No, I mean, I don’t think it was too tough for us. We’re not I mean, especially when we made that decision, we make a lot of emotional decisions and by we I mean me and just like I’m not very fond of Amazon and the way they do business. I’m not too fond of Facebook. I don’t like the way they communicate with us. They’re very accusatory of issues with customers and it goes back to like the team members that we hire if they’re not a good culture fit. If our vendors aren’t a good culture fit then we don’t work with them and Amazon isn’t really a Beardbrand culture fit for us so we didn’t want to work with them.
Beardbrand’s New Spin-Off
Andrew: I want to get into a new business you’ve got going and you posted in the thread, excuse me, you posted in the form about this with the title Hey something like we’re launching a new store da, da, da and I was pretty excited to click and to read about it. So what’s the new business that you guys are kicking off?
Eric: Yeah, the new business is Urban Beardsman, urbanbeardsman.com. We’ve had the brand really around since the start of Beardbrand because we’ve always used Urban Beardsman in our tagline and for us we had it as a blog originally on beardbrand.com in the name of our blog was Urban Beardsman and then we spun that blog off onto its own domain urbanbeardsman.com. And then finally, we worked with three influential men to curate a highly selected collection of products that they use on a personal level and turn it into an e-commerce store like a traditional retail e-commerce store.
Challenges with an Additional Site
Andrew: And with the original vision and is being a content creator and driver of traffic to Beardbrand, why don’t you think it worked quite as well as you had originally hoped in terms of driving traffic and sales back to Beardbrand or did it?
Eric: Yeah, I mean it did work but not to the level that we wanted it. I think there’s some challenges in the sense that it’s on a different domain. You’re building a SEO juice for a different website so all the work you’re doing on Urban Beardsman is going to Urban Beardsman and all the work you’re doing on Beardbrand stays on Beardbrand. I do like the flexibility that having a different website gives you. It allowed us to focus on content beyond just kind of like grooming for the most part.
I don’t know like in hindsight was it the best strategy, I don’t really know but like kind of going back to our roots of really like when I first got the vision of Beardbrand, that vision was always as kind of like a lifestyle company as like apparel and accessories and bags and just like the look of a Urban Beardsman like that’s what I wanted to build when I thought of Beardbrand. And through just like our resources at the time Beardbrand would just…it just connected with the grooming aspect.
Like it just became like kind of like this grooming company and whenever we tried to expand beyond grooming, it never really connected with our audience. So we figured to continue on that original vision that that’s what Urban Beardsman had to become. And that’s really kind of what we’ve been working to since a while ago I guess ever since we spun off content beyond just grooming content.
Andrew: Yeah and one of my questions when you announced in the forum was, “Yeah, hey Eric, why not just do it all under Beardbrand you know Beardbrand is the oil right now, why not do the clothing and the accessories and everything that you’re going to be launching on Urban Beardsman under the same brand and to me these seem very interchangeable. Not interchangeable in a bad way but just like catering to a very similar audience but it sounds like obviously you’ve thought through separating them and you kind of alluded to the fact that you tried to market some of those things or at least see if your clientele Beardbrand would be interested in some of these other things and it didn’t take. So is that experience kind of what’s driving the decision to keep them apart?
Eric: Well, I mean I think maybe a little bit of that but probably the biggest reason is building a company that just kind of makes sense in a traditional sense and that gives you more flexibility and more options down the road and I think it’s…we’re not trying to sell Beardbrand, that’s not the goal but we want to have a business that’s built to sell and what that means is it’s well run. It’s an oiled machine and it’s profitable. And that’s going to attract a lot of buyers and it’s going to also be something that will be good for us to hang on to and keep.
And really, when you think about Beardbrand, if it is as it is now a grooming company with grooming products then you get companies like L’Oreal or Procter and Gamble or Harry’s just like these organizations that are in the grooming space, they do grooming, they do beauty, they understand and then they could just blend it into their portfolio. They have whole organizations built around that but if we build an organization that has grooming products and we also do wallets and we do apparel and we do this and we do that, then how is that going to work in their business model, like you’re really limiting the amount of opportunities to purchase the company down the road or to sell the company down the road. So that’s kind of like another guiding factor for us is just understanding like how can this section of Beardbrand integrate into future businesses.
The Ever Present Need to Tinker
Andrew: One thing I thought was interesting is you mentioned that as you’re looking forward to Urban Beardsman you’re really excited at the prospect of building something new to focus on growth again and also potentially to keep yourself from tinkering too much with your existing business with Beardbrand and I sometimes I find that to be the case too like with eCommerceFuel well I work in the details but I can find myself sometimes when either I’ve run out of good ideas or I just for whatever reason I’m not seeing the growth and the excitement I used to have, I tend to get to tinker away too much. Has that’s been something that’s been a struggle for you with Beardbrand trying to fix something when it’s not broken and is that part of the allure also of going to launching a second store?
Eric: Well, I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at keeping my hands off where I need to keep them off but you know the natural tendency isn’t there. So it’s something that I suppress like I feel like Beardbrand really does have a solid vision and strategy for where it wants to go and that plan is on right now a 60-month plan or vision. And if my role as a CEO is kind of make sure that that it follows that plan and make sure that it follows that vision but beyond that like if I get in the day to day too much then I’m going to be diverting the ship because my personality is I think out loud, I talk out loud.
I just like have all these ideas constantly and then if my teams around and they hear those things then they’re going to think that we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that and we’re going to try to develop this app for that and da, da, da, da. Meanwhile, I’m just kind of like hushing things through and trying to get a gauge of feasibility from my team rather than like a direction to my team. So the more I can kind of have a process for how I communicate the vision I think the better that the team is going to get it and work toward that goal and build the company toward that bigger vision.
Using YouTube for Branding
Andrew: With Beardbrand you started so strong with YouTube and it was instrumental in growing the business from day one. Is that something that’s still going to be a key part of Urban Beardsman?
Eric: Yeah, and not only that. I feel like between now and what we were doing back in 2013 when we last talked like our YouTube has been kicked up to a whole another level like I think back when we were talking I was just so strong out that I was doing maybe like one post every month or even maybe every two or three months and the channel was a lot smaller back then. And we’ve gotten to a system and a process where we’re doing two YouTube videos a week per channel. So we have two channels, we have Urban Beardsman channel and a Beardbrand channel. So we’re doing four videos a week on YouTube and then we also have a podcast that we’re doing as well. So I feel like, we’re big believers in content marketing and giving first before asking. And we’re going to continue that strategy with Urban Beardsman as well.
Andrew: And what are your strategies for picking topics? I was perusing your channels and you have a lot of ones that are fun and aren’t necessarily purely beard related for example, why I’m skinny. We were talking about that one earlier, that one was really interesting using drugs the right way, how to pick up girls at the bar, great dance moves and I got to give you props for this. We’ll I kept all of these in the show notes. But how are you picking content? It looks like you’re branching out a little bit as opposed to just beard focused to kind of be things that would just be of interesting in a broader sense to Beardsman.
Launching as a Lifestyle, Not Just a Brand
Eric: Yeah, and that’s really the thing about Urban Beardsman that Beardbrand can be is like Urban Beardsman is the lifestyle aspect. It’s what it means to be an Urban Beardsman, what is that life like? How do you become a better man? How do you self-improve? And grooming is a part of it but it’s not the only part of it. Whereas Beardbrand is a men’s grooming company, it’s like an American crew or a Kiehl’s or a Gillette like that is the purpose of that. So we want to kind of keep the content on point there. But as a lifestyle company like what is lifestyle?
Like that’s everything in your life. It’s everything from your diet to your leisure to your activities to work to your style to how you look you dress how you feel, so there’s no shortage of content for us and we’ve always found that interacting with our customers, interacting with our audiences is the best source of content. I mean, they ask us for videos and they ask us more than we can produce. Some say there’s really like once you start going, once you get that machine up and running and lubed, you can sort it down, I mean we can build up like in one or two month inventory of show ideas now that we’ve just got so many content ideas. It’s really nice and it’s been a lot of hard work to build up that platform, but it’s nice now that we’ve figured out a lot of things.
The Lightning Round!
Andrew: Can it get ready to close here, I want to go through our lightning attitude, it’s just something that’s relatively new where I ask the same list of questions to all of our guests and they can be just fast kind of punchy replies will dive into them. So how much money is enough? What would be your number?
Eric: I think for me, my goal is to build or buy like four properties around the world and then have enough income to or enough cash to develop income of 100,000 a year. So I’m thinking like $10 million is kind of what I’m shooting for.
Andrew: Ten million bucks, nice. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Eric: And I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and a business person. I didn’t necessarily know what that meant. But kind of like flashing jobs I wanted to be a truck driver. I wanted to be an architect. My dad told me I should be an accountant and I thought that was the worst thing ever.
Andrew: Glad you didn’t go that route. No offense to accountants but I like what you do with your beard. How many hours per week do you work?
Eric: I don’t know. I’d probably say I’m on a 40 to 50 hour a week regiment right now.
Andrew: What do you think about in the shower?
Eric: Well, I think about getting clean. Normally, I’m testing some new products, some kind of like how does this slather. Is it working well, how does it smell? So I’m either thinking about our products or I’m just saying about nothing.
Andrew: And this next one is kind of a test question. We may or may not leave it and it’s a little and may be controversial or not we’ll see but let’s say you’re faced with a terrible decision to save either your spouse or save your child. You have to save your inner Eleanor, which one do you choose and why?
Eric: If you look at my Twitter handle. It says I’m a husband, a father like a designer, founder of BeardBrand and I’ve always put my wife on a pedestal above everyone else and it’s not to say that losing my daughter would be an acceptable thing because I want to be but yeah I mean my wife is always my number one and it’s always been that way and it always will be. The way I look at it is when I got married I committed to like a life time with her. My kids, they don’t choose me, they’re born into me. They’re born into our family and one day they’re going to to grow up and leave. If I do it right as a husband and hopefully my wife will never leave me and she’ll be there by my side till I die. So yeah, I can’t imagine living without her.
Andrew: If you weren’t running Beardbrand, what would you be doing?
Eric: I’d probably be working on some other business I wasn’t working very well. Yeah, I have always got ideas for businesses to start up something, some kind of business.
Andrew: If there was one thing that was going to bring upon the fall of civilization in the next 25 years what would that be?
Eric: That would definitely be the government, any kind of government, rule by forces is always the downfall of progress in society.
Andrew: Let’s say I know you said that you’d be running another business but let’s say you had to leave BeardBrand and you couldn’t start another business but you had to work for another company but could be any company in the world, which company would you work for?
Eric: Well, for me especially right now in this part of my life it’s more about who I’d want to work with rather than the company. So obvious Dan Schneider is an inspiration to me as a person and how he runs his businesses. I’d probably beg and plead him for a job and then maybe I’d beg and plead you Andrew, I think you got to get your shit together so it’d be fun to work with you. I’d be like just you know just pay me $20,000, $30,000 a year and I’ll do whatever you need me to do.
Andrew: You’re too kind, thanks man. $20,000, 30,000 I think we can probably make it a half of it. Who is Toby though? I wasn’t familiar with him, who’s that?
Eric: Yeah, Toby is Dan Schneider. We did a beard oil collaboration with him called black marble and he’s a designer out of New York. He’s originally from Austria and he’s just got a great friendly mindset and he really shares a lot of similar outlook on life that I share and I would just give him I would just tell him to have really low expectations for what I can do and pay me inexpensively and I think that’d be a fun way to do business with someone you admire.
Andrew: Nice. What do you spend most of your discretionary money on or maybe state it differently what’s your one biggest vice that consumes the most of your cash? It doesn’t to be a vice it could be a good thing.
Eric: Yeah, I mean, I love coffee and if you probably look at it cumulatively, I’m spending a lot of money on coffee but that’s not a very glamorous thing. I’ve gotten into the desire to buy photography equipment and photography lenses and that’s a more expensive hobby but this is not as frequent. So between coffee and photography I’d probably yeah go between those.
Andrew: Nice. Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world? Cost practicality in your current community warning issue for example, I’d pay for everything or someone would pay for anything you can transplant all of your friends and family, where would that be?
Eric: Yeah, you know I’m a vagabond at heart. So there’s a long list of items for me but I just got back from Amsterdam in April. I love that city, it was really cool but I didn’t go in winter so I don’t know if that would work out for me but there’s this town in Chile called Valparaiso and I really just fell in love with the energy, the vibe, the feel of the city that I would probably say that that’s pretty high on my list so.
Andrew: And then last question what’s one of those generous things that someone has done for you?
Eric: Well, I mean my wife, she keeps me alive really. She’s a fantastic woman who really keeps the house in order and not only keeps the house in order when I was starting Beardbrand, she was and she still is working many hours probably a full time work load and raising our daughter. So like without her there would be no Beardbrand, without her support literally without her supporting me emotionally and physically and paying the bills while we try to keep Beardbrand up, none of this would happen. So I can’t imagine anyone providing anything more than that.
Andrew: I love it. Eric, it’s been so fun watching what you’ve done with Beardbrand over the last three years and having to come on for a follow up and hopefully I’m looking forward to watching Urban Beardsman take off as a product based business. And maybe we can have you on in another couple of years when you’ve sold one of those big outfits that you mentioned and talk about how it all panned out.
Eric: Yeah, yeah. Bring me back on when I’ve got that $10 million in the bank and I’ve got my four properties knocked out. I’m living in Valparaiso and Amsterdam and Tokyo is probably the other one I buy a place in.
Andrew: Then when that happens, give me a call and we will get something scheduled.
Eric: Sounds like a plan.
Andrew: Eric, thanks so much for taking the time and if you’re not for us Eric check out the stuff our hilarious awesome YouTube channel and a couple of amazing sites and beardbrand.com and urbanbeardsman.com. We’ll link it up to all the stuff in the show notes. Eric, thanks so much.
Eric: Thank you. My pleasure.
Andrew: You want to connect with and learn from other proven eCommerce entrepreneurs? Join us in the eCommerceFuel private community. It’s our tight knit invented group for store owners with at least a quarter million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at eCommerceFuel.com. Thanks so much to our Podcast producer Laura Serino for all of her hard work in making this show possible and to you for tuning in, thank you for listening. That will do it for this week but looking forward to see me again next Friday.
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