What was the driving force behind starting your brand? Was there a specific event, or series of events, that catalyzed the launch?
Fifteen years ago, I outsourced myself to write software in Hanoi, Vietnam where my starting salary was $4 an hour. I exclusively wore travel clothes while I was there. I was commuting via motorbike so I needed to wear something that was comfortable, easy to wash, quick to dry when I’d get caught in the rain, etc. I wore a lot of Patagonia, specifically.
I moved back to NYC almost two years later, started a family, and took on a more traditional software job. Even as a software guy, I couldn’t get away with wearing travel clothes in the office…not at a traditional workplace in the US. Separately, my day job took a turn for the worse. It was the height of the economic crash, I had just had my son and found myself miserable at work. After much deliberation, my wife and I decided to stay in NYC and stick it out. We moved in with my parents while I attended FIT. It was there that I found fabric for our first pair of Bluffworks pants. I put the pants on Kickstarter, and it totally took off. I raised $129,000 in the first 30 days — it was incredible!
We love your sense of adventure. Perhaps this has been your greatest adventure yet! If you were starting this business again, what would you do differently? What should future founders be most aware of before launching a brand?
I love that you asked me this. A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece on exactly this called 27 Adventures. Starting a company has been super hard. We’re seven years in and it feels like holding up a mirror to my strengths and weaknesses. In the beginning, I thought I was good at everything. I was overly optimistic. Then the further I go, I realized the things I am not good at I need to compensate for. Where the team’s abilities need to grow — from the skills that got us to one point, into expanded ability to reach the next level — it’s me who has to grow most of all.
What I would do differently? First, I wouldn’t be undercapitalized. It’s painful. Second, I wouldn’t be so hasty. There is so much pressure to go fast, but in some cases, slow is fast. Haste makes waste. I have never seen a vendor recover from being behind in a timeline or having a quality issue. I have never seen it turned around — how it starts is how it’s going to end.
Customer service and engagement seem to be highly valued at Bluffworks. When it came to hiring, was this the first team you built? How did you prioritize your first hires?
Honestly, it was something that fell from the sky for me. Someone emailed me asking if I needed a virtual assistant. I asked “What is a virtual assistant? Is it a person or a hologram??” They told me it was in fact a real-life person. I told them I didn’t need an assistant but did need a customer service person. I ended up hiring her — she was my first hire. Since then, she has built a Customer Service team out of Albany, NY where she runs fulfillment and CS. She has been such a good hire and a tremendous asset. When I think about other startups and advising other people, I always come back to the fact that, at the end of the day, there are ways you need to just get lucky. For example, having the world’s greatest hire for a position you didn’t know you even needed.
We are so excited to partner with Bluffworks! Outside of capital, how has Assembled Brands been helpful to you? What made you partner with us?
The model Assembled Brands has built for us has been eye-opening and helpful. It is broken into a hierarchy of data used to model the entire business. It looks at a handful of things including customer acquisition, reorder rates, etc. That distillation illustrates the most important levers for running the business. That is really helpful. In fact, we’re using the model for fundraising now.
Learn more about Assembled Brands here!