In this podcast you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who trimmed the fat from her business and focused on doing just one thing better than her competitors.
Sara Marie Moylan is the creator of She Fit, a high-impact sports bra that gives you your bra, your way. She sums up the key to her success in one word: Relevance.
In this episode, you'll learn:
- What is the patent process like and why you might want to get one for your product.
- What Daymond John’s team did to improve their manufacturing process.
- How rapid growth can put you out of business.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
Felix: Today I'm joined by Sara Marie Moylan from Shefit.com. That's SHEFIT.com. Shefit is a high impact sports bra that gives you your bra, your way. It was started in 2012 and based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Welcome Sara.
Sara: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be on the show with you.
Felix: Awesome, so tell us a little bit more about your story and what is the most popular product that you sell?
Sara: My company is called Shefit and we sell fully-custom adjustable sports bras. We have a patent on our adjustability, and basically it gives the user the ability to set their own fit. We say it's your bra and it's your way.
Felix: Awesome, so what is your background? How did you get involved in creating a bra? Did you have experience in this industry?
Now, when I was wearing two and three bras at the time, but at that time, it was turning in to be a super self-conscious type of issue. Wherever I went, I felt like people were staring at me, I was bouncing all over the place, it turned into me having extreme amounts of pain in my neck, in my back, in my shoulders, and I just was walking away from workouts that I normally wouldn't walk away from, and just I grew depressed, so I kind of just decided to take the bull by the horns at the time, prior to wearing the two to three ... Or, when I was wearing the two to three bras, I was pulling the excess in the rib brand and in the shoulder strap area with rubber bands.
I was pulling all the excess in my rubber band unit at where I wanted it to fit me, so after I gotten sick of that, I just decided to take some bras, I was using probably some of the best bras in the market, some big brand of bras, and I just cut them up. I cut them up and have glue, and needle, and thread, and kind of came up with my own concoction never at the time thinking that I would ever be starting a business. I was literally just trying to solve my own problem, and from there, it kind of took on a shape of its own. It really turned into the prototype being quite functional and I found it being better than what I was using, better than anything I could buy, but it was falling apart on me because I couldn't sell.
I just took it to a local seamstress, bought some fabrics that I wanted her to make me something out of, and she made one. It was at that point when after having worn out bra for several months that I knew if I was dealing with this problem, other women were, and I started to take note of other women bouncing uncontrollably when I was driving to and from, or when I was at the gym, and just kind of started talking to women, and that's when the light bulb just clicked, and I thought, "Well, maybe I need to help other women solve the same problem." From there, it kind of took on a life of its own. That's a whole another side of the story, but that's how it started. I was really trying to solve my own problem and in turn lead to a business idea.
Felix: Yeah, that's amazing. I think that's a pretty common path where people were trying to solve their own problem, so you've made your own bra first at home, decide to take to a seamstress to build something a little bit more adorable, and then once you had that prototype, you just start talking to other women, asking them if they have this problem. How did you know that it was like a validated business idea that was worth pursuing?
Sara: Yeah. Well, at first, I actually got my partner here in the office with me. He's working on some other stuff. He happens to be my other better half most of the days. He's Bob. He was on Shark Tank with me as well. He just kind of rolled his eyes at the time. I had this full-time sales job and I was trying to work with a patternist that was two and a half hours away from me. We have a mutual friend that owns a dance recital company and they make costumes, and I basically asked if they would let me use their patternist if I pay for her time and drove to her, because I needed to develop basically a product at that point.
For several years, I drove back and forth in between day job, and he just always would roll his eyes and say whatever. It was probably to the point when I actually had finally made a handful of that, and pass them out to friends, and ask them to use them. When they wouldn't give them back and when they do give them back, they were like literally hanging on by a thread and they were like, "Can you just fix this so I can have it back?" When I think he kind of realized that maybe I was on to something too and we just decided at that point to kind of dive into it and really give it a go.
That's when we explore the whole Kickstarter option, but we really did validate it first for sure, even with the small test group that we used at the time that was a little over ten women, and I really tried to pick women that ... I mean they are friends, they were acquaintances, but not like really good friends. I wanted them to be honest, give me feedback. I picked women that I knew were spending a significant money on their workout equipment, [inaudible 00:06:27], and that's kind of who I started with, and we validated that pretty quickly.
From there, we kind of got our hands taken and kind of under the wing of some really amazing mentors here in our community, and they just advised us to, "Go to California, go to Fashion District, go see if you can find someone to make this and find fabrics." At the time, I had no experience, I was just really good at my day job which was sales, and I decided to hop out of plane, and I thought it was going to be glitz and glamour, it was going to be beautiful, the Fashion District, and I got there and was quickly awakened by the fact that it was not that, and I didn't know where to start.
I basically paved the ground, I called a friend, and ask her to come down and help me, and basically be there for moral support. Five days later, I came back, I found a patternist who actually had done a lot of work for another big company on the side. I got lucky I was talking to a couple vendors at a very small zipper factory in the Fashion District, and someone gave me her number. I ended up connecting with the patternist, I ended up getting my fabrics all there, and then I ended up through talking to this patternist, I have found my manufacturer.
I came home and I did all of it over the phone. I never met my manufacturer face-to-face, which had come back to be a big area of problems, but one of the early on mistakes that we made for sure, but I came back with all those three things, put it together, did another small run of bras, tested a bigger group of people, and the same thing came about. They were all very interested, they wanted to keep the product, they want more, and from there, we decided to really give it the soft test launch with the Kickstarter campaign.
Felix: That's awesome, so I want to talk about a few things you mentioned there. One of them is about testing, I think this is a step that a lot of entrepreneurs are at where they are thinking about starting a business, but they want to make sure they do the validation the right way and do it at smaller scale, so you say you start with ten people at first, and then went with bigger test from there. What happens in these test? What are you looking for to get the kind of information that you need to make the business decision that you ended up making? How did you set up the test? What were you asking them? What was the contraction like?
Sara: Up until this year, it's been a one-man team. It's literally been me, and then my husband at the time was just helping me with the budget, in terms of like setting aside the money and figuring out if we could do this. We've done everything on our own, solely on our own, financially by ourselves, so at this time, it was just me, I was a one-man show, so I wouldn't say it was anything too technical. I made a spreadsheet, and I listed a bunch of questions down, and I gave them the bra, and just asked them to use it until I got back to them, and then I went over the types of fabrics, what they liked, what they didn't liked, what they like and what they didn't like of the current bras that they were using on the market, what they would pay for that type of product, if I could change anything about it, what would I change?
Just all the things that gave me the insight to making the product even better prior to going into our Kickstarter launch. I also came home from the Fashion District at that point and I wanted some type of credibility factor to the product, so I decided to reach out to a local plastic surgeon who happens to be a globally-renowned, well sought-after thought leader in the breast aesthetic space. His name is Dr. Bradley Bengtson. I knew if I could get someone like him on board in terms of like stamping it for approval or giving me some type of insight as I built the bra, that that would be even better.
From first meeting, he was blown away with the concept and the product, and agreed that there was a major need for this. Not only post-surgically for all the post-surgical things that can happen in the breast sector if you will, but also for just women in general, because any type of repetitive bounce over time creates sag in those Cooper's ligaments, which if you're young, if you want to protect your breast from sag, whatever it may be, you have to wear some type of good sports bra, and so we really had him on board from the beginning and he really helped asked the right appropriate questions as well in terms of us building the bra.
We went back to the drawing board with the patternist, I redesigned quite a few things, I changed the fabrics, and we launched it at that time in our Kickstarter campaign with probably from when I had started with my first patternist to when I had launched that Kickstarter bra, we had probably went through at least twenty or so versions of the bra when we launched finally the Kickstarter one. Fast-forward from Kickstarter to now, and we're now on our third version of that original bra, which now I feel like we're finally at the point with the bra now where this version will become our staple product.
It will be come like the original bra that we will now build all of our styles from. I think that we've gotten it to the point where it just cannot get any better. I know that it can get better, don't get me wrong, but this particular style we've improved on so many times, I'm just so happy with where it's at and it's all been due to testing, and collaboration, and my own need for the best product out there.
Felix: I really like that you partner with thought leader for credibility. I think it's an unimportant step, but I think it's ... It did a lot of things for you, because now, you had the backing of somebody that was a thought leader and expert in the space, and your by being partner with him or by having him associate with you, you borrow that kind of credibility from them. If you can talk a little more about this, I don't think this is something that a lot of stores do, but it sounds like it makes a lot of sense. Why did you feel like you needed the credibility? What did you experience? What was going on that felt made you feel like want to partner with somebody that was a thought leader, that is an influencer in the space, or is an expert in the topic?
Sara: First off, I think when we decided to jump all in, like we knew we were going to start with Kickstarter, we stepped back and we knew we are building a brand, and so my biggest thing is, especially when you're dealing with ... From my perspective, I feel like this is the most important piece of equipment a female athlete has. Before we put on our tennis shoes, our shorts, it doesn't matter. The first thing we put on ... You don't even have to be an athlete. You can just be that weekend runner or that woman who's going to Zumba class once a week, it doesn't matter. The first thing you put on to go do something physical is always your sports bra. It is literally a piece of equipment, so to me, I look at this a completely different.
I was building a sports bra brand and knowing a lot more now that I know then, I knew that we really, in order to penetrate the market the way that I was hoping we could penetrate the market, we had to do one thing better than everybody else was doing it, and it had to have relevance behind it. I just felt that by bringing in a thought leader like Dr. Bengtson, it would just give us that credibility factor, that yes, there is a need for this, and yes, from a medical perspective, it can help, and there's a lot of studies out there actually on sports bras. A lot of studies out there on sports bra that talked to a lot of the things that Dr. Bengtson talked about with women that don't even have surgical types of procedures.
A lot of women that are naturally big busted or women just in general are not big busted, our breast all move in the same direction, they all move the same way whether they're big or they're small, and if we want to create the ability to not have sag down the road, one of the only ways to do that is to wear the proper piece of equipment, and so that is why from the beginning I just thought it was really important to bring him on board. Now, stepping back, we have a patent on the product, so do we need the credibility factor? No. Do we need it as we move forward? No, but I just think that it shows the value that we're putting into the brand in the business when we're working on the types of products that we want to release to our consumers.
That's the kind of brand that we're building, that's been ingrained in us since we've started, and I just really think it's important that if you're setting out to build or be one of the best products in the industry, then you really should be leaning in to some of the best thought leaders in the industry as well, and that's kind of how I looked at it. Bengtson has been instrumental in that, obviously, he endorses our product, so there is obviously a financial aspect on that and for him as well, but he also brings so much to the table for us. I think it's a win-win situation for the two of us for sure.
Felix: Yeah. You said something there that earlier on that really stood out to me. You said that you knew you had to do one thing better than everyone else and have to have relevance. Can you say a little more about this? What do you mean by the one thing that's better and what do you mean by the relevance point?
Sara: Yeah. Well, I think first off, when any entrepreneurs starts out to do a business, and maybe this could just be me, but you tend to have so many things on your plate that it's really hard to stay focused. When we launched Shefit and when we launched our Kickstarter campaign, we actually launched with a bra and a full line of apparel, which looking back was another one of my early mistakes, because I was spreading myself so thin and what we needed to really do was focus on the one thing that sets us apart.
From the beginning, when we launched Kickstarter and we started PR, everything that came, all the interest that came and we got a lot of interest earlier on, was not around the apparel, it was around the bra, and so after Kickstarter, and after like stepping back, and reorganizing, refocusing, we realized that as much as we knew we were building a brand, and we still are, we eventually want to have a full line of apparel, and girl's apparel, and women's apparel, and everything. We know that we have to step back and we have to focus on the one thing that's going to make us stand out, the one thing that our brand will be known for, and that's our bra.
If you look at some of the big competitors in the athletic space, if you think about the top three brands if you will and I'm sure a lot of you, if you're listening to this or even knew yourself feels like can probably say that three big ones come to mind, you don't know them for everything that they offer, you know them for the one thing that made them famous. That is really how we have tried to do the same thing. We want to step back and focus on the one thing that's going to catapult our brand and be the best out of everyone in that one sector, so that when we finally get to the point when we can build on, and add other components, and scale the business, we've build that credibility with that credibility with the backbone product of what makes our brand famous, or different, or unique, or known for, and that's why we've decided to do that.
Felix: I love that. I always say that order is important, like doing things in specific order is important. You think, we think we want to launch a massive company, a massive brand, and have all these ideas for all these pricing we want to offer, and we think why not do it all at once? Why not put all these things out once, because eventually when it get there anyway, [inaudible 00:17:52] head start, but the problem is that, what you're saying, we're spread too thin, not only is it a problem for yourself, and your focus, and your energies, but then also could confuse a customer. They don't think of your brand as the best at one thing, they'd think of you as, "No, you're going to offer everything, so we're not sure what's important for you."
I think that's a really important point that you can have these big dreams, you can have these goals for more and more things, but don't do it all at once, like don't put all at once because it's not only going to be ... You might not get the traction you need for yourself, because you're burning yourself out, and could also confuse your customers, and you might not be able to get customers to the point where they are ready to learn more about all your other offerings.
Sara: Yeah, I completely agree, and the thing is like looking back to be honest, everybody who knows me, I move a million miles a minute, I'm so passionate about everything that we're doing [crosstalk 00:18:45]. I'm at a loss of words for sometimes for how excited and what I believe that we're capable of achieving, and there has been a lot of people that had have to wrangle me in, and I think this is a case with a lot of entrepreneurs. They get so passionate, they want to do so many things, but I've had the right people around me to kind of wrangle me in, "Okay, listen. We can't do this, this, this, and this, and this right now, sir. You are really good at bras, let's just focus on bras."
That's really what I'm ... Even now, it's hard for me because I already want to venture in a couple of other things and I have to pull back and say, "No, I have made a dedicated commitment to myself, and to my team, and to the people that are on board with us to really solely focus on being the best in this space until we've validated that, and we're a player, and then we can dabble in to some other things. I really don't think, especially with our new partnership, I really don't think that we're very far away from that. It's a pretty lofty thing to say, but I think you have to have lofty goals, and lofty dreams, and aspirations if you're going to get there, because I have nothing ... I know we're going to make it.
I know we're going to make it, so we just need to scale back, and really focus, and get there on the right terms.
Felix: Yeah, I think that getting to that kind of advocacy that you have, it's not only possible, but it's one of best ways to adapt that kind of attitude you have to is to have those wins early on. If you're, again, doing too many different things at once, you feel like you're not making any traction because you're making small incremental gains spread throughout like ten different things and never feels like you're winning anything.
Sara: Right. You're just constantly running on a hamster wheel. You can't be good at everything from the beginning. To be honest, those are some of our early on mistakes is thinking that we could.
Felix: Yeah, totally. I was going to ask you next, I think obviously you feel this way, I feel this way, and listeners out there probably also feel this way, but then the problem is saying it is a lot harder than doing, "killing off" pieces of your company or things that you've already created, and even if they're not doing anything at all, because you put the work into it, it's really hard to let go of things that you already committed not even publicly, maybe committed to yourself or start going down this path that you want to go down. What did you do back then to say, "Okay, let's just focus on bras. Let's cut everything else out," and what did you do today to make sure you stay on the right path?
Sara: Well, like I said, early on, we lost a lot of money doing that too soon. We found that the traction ... We had great feedback in apparel. We sold out of our apparels so fast. We reordered a couple times. It was to the point where ... Here is where the decision happened and we decided to stick with it, is the traction from a publicity standpoint, and the thing that was making us stand out, and where we were getting all of these great, great feedback, and PR, and everything if you will, is from the bra. Even though we were selling like crazy, the apparel, people were more interested in the bra.
The bra was getting us the talk time, the interest, and so we found ourselves wasting ... Even though we are selling it, we found ourselves wasting money trying to continue to leverage the apparel side of it and move into other things of the apparel, it was taking away from what really helped us define really early the core side of our business, which was the bra.
Felix: Makes sense. I heard this analogy before, two years ago, baseball analogy where it says that, "It's a lot easier to get someone, or your company, or your brand from third base to home than it is to get a bunch of people on to first base," because there's already a lot of momentum behind, some of the things already working, focus energy on pushing that, and basically putting all your efforts behind it to get it to roll even faster. I think that that's what you guys identified, was that people knew you guys for the bra, so let's focus on it. Maybe an exercise that all the listeners out there can go through is to find out what your customers consider you as.
You had to ask them to identify you or pick one product that they see you as, ask them that, or find out how they see you as a company, and then you should really focus on that or cut out anything that is not related to that.
Sara: Right, well done. It's a hard decision to make. I did not want to walk away from the apparel. We get emails everyday of people asking us, "When are you going to have a shorts back in? Are you going to have that?" And then people ask us when we're coming out with apparel, and so we know there's a need and a want there, but we just really feel the best plan by far, like you said, and with probably any other company is to do one thing better than everybody else, build a credibility, build a community, build the following, and then add that stuff in when the time is right.
Felix: Yeah, and the thing is that, it's going to be a lot easier at that point too, because if you already have credibility and people already know you as a brand in one particular product, the last is going to be a lot easier to introduce a new one, then starting everything from scratch like we're saying earlier.
Sara: I agree and we don't just have the one bra, and the nice thing about focusing just on bras is the fact that we can take our adjustable, our patented technology that makes us so unique right now, we can take that technology and parlay that onto a plethora of different styles of bras, which is what we're going to do, so as much as we're going to stay in that sports bra sector, or the bra sector because that's the next space that we're kind of creeping into as like an everyday bra, is focusing on bras and bras being plural before diving into the other stuff, so as much as it might not sound as fun just focusing on one product, it really actually is because it's helping us to really develop our bra line.
Felix: Makes sense. Yeah, you're going really deep into just one particular type of apparel. That makes a lot of sense.
Felix: You have mentioned a couple of times about the patent that you have. Can you talk a little bit more about that? What is the patent and what was the process like to get a patent?
Sara: It wasn't easy. Again, Bob and I didn't know about how to go about any of this stuff. We really had to figure it out all on our own. Thank God for a lot of the steps that we ended up taking and a lot of the looking back mistakes that ended up happening, thank God they happened because all of those have taught us so much and all of it has been a journey to learning them out and figuring them out on our own. It's nothing for someone to pay a consultant to do a lot of stuff, but unfortunately in our situation, we didn't have the money to pay the consultants, and then the areas where we did kind of lean into some expertise to pay for, we found pretty quickly that they didn't care for our business as much as we did, and we ended up getting dropped in our butts with a lot of things.
They weren't doing a lot of things and we end up pick up the slacks, and figure it out on our own, and looking back on some of the best things that ever happened to us, but it's just been a cyclical circle and we've been able to figure things out as we go.
Felix: That makes sense. No one's going to care about your business as much as you are, so if you do happen to hire experts or consultants, what I found works well and what I've heard other entrepreneurs talk about is that, use those experts and consultants to teach you, not to necessarily do it for you [crosstalk 00:25:58], have them teach you, cut down the learning curve, but then, if it's something that's core to your business, you should keep it in-house, and use those learnings, and do it yourself basically.
Sara: I agree. Now, the time ... So the patent question, kind of circling back to that in using experts in consulting. We actually leaned in to our friend, a retired pattern lawyer who worked with some really great companies, and he was just retired, and missed it, and was helping people out on the side. We started with him early on, we couldn't afford unfortunately an expensive pattern attorney, but at the time also had a really good friend that had just graduated from law school. We are paying him on the side to help us do some minor contracts, little things that we just couldn't afford at a big firm.
I would say lean in to your network, lean in to your friends, see how they can do something for you and how you can do something for them back, but this particular lawyer at the time started us with a provisional patent. The provisional patent definitely saved us some time. We didn't have the money to run right into a full-pledge patent, so the provisional saved us some money, and then gave us some time, and then once the provisional was out after 12 months, we actually had the fund at that point to move on from him into a different attorney, a lawyer, and we started the patent process. It was a long process.
We had to go back and forth with him on several things. We had to have the CAD drawings, all the intricacies of the product clearly identified and marked. He at the time didn't think that we would get a patent. He actually did not think that we would get a utility patent. He thought we were reaching for way too much and I disagreed and I pushed him to push for the utility patent. He thought if we got a a design patent, we'd be lucky. We ended up getting a full-pledge utility patent. It's that strong. It's a very, very strong patent.
Felix: Can you just describe the difference between a design patent and a utility patent?
Sara: Well, so first off, if the provisional just give you a protectant protecting for that first 12 months so you've kind of got something on the books and you've got it on paper. It doesn't cost very much. It's a few hundred dollars. After 12 months, that expires, you basically have to decide where you're going. A design patent is not as strong as a utility patent. The utility patent has a lot more intricacies, a lot more things that you can definitely go after somebody for, and it's just much stronger. I have to tell you I'm not the expert, but I'm one of the strongest that we did that.
Felix: [crosstalk 00:28:42] The goal is always to try to get the utility patent.
Sara: To only start to get the utility patent, I would definitely advise that if you're working with someone to dig in and look to see what the differences are. There's a little bit more money. It's probably more financially-costly with the utility side of it just because it is a stronger patent and it takes a little bit more time, so we did eventually get the utility. It was honestly ... It was almost three years later. I mean it took some time to get the patent finally approved. In fact, it came last year. Our final word that it went through, it came last year. In the same time we started with the patents, we started with the trademarking also of our logo and our name.
In fact, we ran into quite a bit of legality issues with our name early on and ended up settling and we actually won, so I would definitely, some advise early on, is pay the money to start your trademarks and to start your patents, because a lot of that can stop you dead in your tracks, and I'm really thankful that looking back, we paid the extra money even though it was definitely a stretch for us to do that with our trademarks and our patent. Now, to date, we actually do own all of our registered trademarks on our brand name, on our logo, and obviously our utility patent. The next few bras that I'm styling on, and I'm designing, and working on will involve some additional patent, so I'm really excited about those things.
Felix: So, the trademarking that you guys had done, was that what helped you with the I guess legal issues that you had to run into?
Sara: Yeah, a 100%.
Felix: Now regarding the patent that you had set up, how did you know that ... I guess for the patent and the trademark. How did you know that you needed this? Did you noticed anything about the industry that you're in? If someone out there is listening and they are like, "I don't think I need any of these things." What can they look out for to determine if they actually should go after getting a patent or trademarking their brand?
Sara: Again, I am definitely not an expert in that area. I've taught myself pretty well and we've learned along the way. You don't need a patent. We had a lot of people tell us, "You don't need a patent." We just felt that if we were going to play in the space that we wanted to play in, which was building a brand that eventually would be ... I believe one of the next greatest fitness apparel company, so due to that, I wanted to make sure that we had a leg to stand on. I knew that once this product hit the market, I don't think we're very far away from seeing another brand come out with a similar type of bra like we're doing, which is why we felt it was smart to spend the money on the patent so that we could have leverage with that down the road, and so that's why we decided to do it.
Even when we are pitching in the Tank, when we made the deal with Daymond, there was a lot of banter back and forth with Lori and Daymond around the whole patent question. He had even said, "Listen, I've built a very lucrative brand with T-shirts. I didn't go do anything new. I just did something different and better," and so what he was trying to say to Lori is, "I'm not hinging my decision on whether this patent is strong or it's not, or they get it or they don't," because at the time when we pitched, we have just gotten the approval of the patent, and she was questioning whether we had or not, and so I think there's a lot of things to say around what Daymond said, because I think it's true.
I don't think that you need a patent. Looking back, I don't think we needed it either, but it was just something that I felt like if we were going to pursue moving this into the catapult brand that I know that we can grow this to be, I wanted to have that leverage, because you never know. You have to be smart as an entrepreneur. I have no plans of an exit strategy, I have no plans of buyout, but I'm also not going to be naïve and stupid and say that's not an option. I think if that is an option for us at some point if it is, I have no intentions of it being so, but if it is, I think we have a much stronger case with the patent for sure.
Felix: Makes a lot of sense. Just one of those things, like insurance where you don't need until you really do need it, and then that's when you really need, really want to have had it.
Sara: I agree and to be honest, the other thing is, is every time we talk with an investor, when we were in the Tank, when we've talked with other VCs, I can tell you, this is the one thing that is asked very early on, "Do you have a patent?" Because I think they see value in it as well.
Felix: Does it matter then if you are in that provisional patent stage? Does that also give you any weight at all when it comes talking?
Sara: No, I don't think it gives you any weight. I just think that it shows that you're smart enough to have started the ground work to get the patent started, because if you don't have the money, the provisional gives you at least 12 months to come up with it and at least protects you at that day. If something that were down the road comes, we have an extra 12 months on us to prove when we actually started this concept.
Felix: Okay, it makes a lot of sense.
Sara: It just gives us buying time. The provisional just really gives you buying time.
Felix: Right. Cool, so let's go back to the very beginning then of you starting the, I guess the Kickstarter campaign. You said that you drove back and forth for multiple years, 20 versions of the bra before going to Kickstarter. How did you know that it was ready? Like, "I think this is a stage that a lot of entrepreneurs are in, the cycle that they're in to," where you spend many years, like you were, in their lab or as a side project trying to build something, and iterating over it, and maybe never come out with it. How did you know that it was ready to go and to put out onto like the stage like Kickstarter?
Sara: It's a really good question, because here is the thing. I think a lot of the people ... There's not really a right time. It's just like when you talk about having a baby, like there's just never really a right time. If it presents itself to you, then you have to run with it. One of my things was I don't want to launch something that I wouldn't stamp my name behind, and so I wanted to make sure that when my product was ready to go, it was at least better than the majority of the other options on the market, and at the time, as funny as it is, my awful-looking prototype was better than any other product that I could find on the market.
I'm a fitness competitor. I do a lot of fitness modeling, I try on some of the best fitness gear, I have access to a lot of that stuff, so the prototype that I was wearing was better than anything on the market that I had worn up to that point, so I knew that if I had had it at that level, that if I could just get it to other consumers, they'd probably agree. It probably still would have a lot of improvements that we can make, but I listen to a lot of podcast, I read a lot of books back in the time when I was doing this, I listened to a lot of videos, I did a lot of research, and some of the best advice that I gather from that, is that perfection is the killer of innovation, so I could perfect it, and I'll tell you I did, because even before launching the Kickstarter campaign, I think I could have launched this company a couple years prior to if I would have just went with it as is, but I kept trying to perfect it.
I'm doing that now. Our third version of our bra has just come in and I'm already like, "We can change this, we can change that, we can change this, it'd be better," and everybody keep saying to me, and the customers are saying it loud and clear is, "This is the best thing that I've ever put on. Holy mackerel. Why hasn't something like this existed?" The concept of the adjustability is actually quite simple. Whenever I show it to anybody, or like when we pitched it in the Tank, or anybody sees it, they're like, "My gosh, this is so simple. Why didn't anybody think of this before?" Some of the best products are actually the most simple products, and so, I would say there's never really a good time.
When you feel like the product is better than what's on the market, then you need to run with it, because I do feel like I wish we would have launched a little bit earlier. I could have always innovate it from there, but the more you try to perfect it, the more it's going to keep you from actually launching it.
Felix: Yeah, I'm sure you learned a lot too doing that Kickstarter, when you launched the Kickstarter, because then you were actually putting in front of potential customers and I'm sure they ask you a lot of questions that you maybe didn't think about before or definitely kind of refocused you on things that mattered more than you'd thought originally.
Sara: Yeah, I agree. I would say that if you're going to run an Indiegogo, or a Kickstarter campaign, or any crowdfunding campaign of that type, I would utilize that information as much as you can. As much as I could sell those early on customers for information, I did. We immediately implemented the reviews with even our Kickstarter campaign, because our Kickstarter customers in 2013, that was soft launch for us. The whole year of 2013, it was a complete soft launch year. All we were doing was getting feedback, gathering feedback, going back to the drawing board, looking for manufacturers, making it better, and we used that whole year of that soft launch to do that. I would go back to customers, and I would offer them a discount on the next bra, they would give me some more feedback.
I eventually pulled a good handful of them, and we did a lot of testing and stuff, and gathered some really good insight. I would definitely suggest you do that before you go into a full launch. It's 2016 and to be honest, we had the whole year of 2013 as our soft launch. We ended up getting ... We had a Tweet go out from a Weight Watchers editor in that Kickstarter bra, which was huge for us, and then we ended up getting featured on The Doctors, which was huge for us as well that year. All of that coupled with the fact that our manufacturer just ended up being not what he said he could be kept us from bringing in ... When we have bras in, they were gone. We were constantly sold out of bras.
We moved into the year of 2014 with the same manufacturer getting us a couple thousand bras here and there, and it was another slow year for us because they couldn't keep up with the demand of what we were selling, and so it wasn't really until last year. Until last year in 2015, it was actually August of 2015, we had just been featured on the Today Show and our product had finally come in. Our first round of product have finally come in from our new manufacturer and it was 6,000 units at the time. It was almost double what we had done the previous year with our other manufacturer and we really took a leap at that point.
That was when we decided to officially launch the brand was in conjunction with our Today Show launch. We sold in 45 days the majority of our product prior to stepping on to the Shark Tank carpet which was in September, so it was a huge pivotal point for us when we realized that, "Holy cow." The soft launch phase, the Kickstarter phase, and then all of 2015 just waiting for these bras to come in and selling what we were able to sell based on what the manufacturer ...
Felix: [crosstalk 00:40:13] crazy that you had all these demand, but you just couldn't get the supply in to, because it was just like you're saying, they're selling out so quickly. As a business owner, that would drive me crazy that, "Man, there's so much money that's been left on the table. Some of you wanted this product, but I can't get enough of it made."
Sara: That has been so frustrating. It's our problem now. I know we'll have to back up, I apologize I'm getting ahead, but just being on Shark Tank less two and a half months ago sold us out of everything we had previously ordered before we knew we were even going to be on Shark Tank. ABC contacted us and told us we were going to air. We had just placed our order for our next batch of bras coming in, and then Shark Tank ended up selling us out of all those bras, and they're just now still coming in. We just found out we're going to rear again and we just placed, or reordered the other day, and two days after our reorder, we found out they were going to re-air us again.
That has been obviously one of our biggest problems from day one has been manufacturing and finding someone to keep up, but we've finally gotten that under control and we are working through those hurdles. I feel like after we get this next batch in and we take care of all of our Shark Tank customers, we'll have some smooth sailing. We've lost out on a lot of opportunity. A lot of opportunity. I haven't been able to open up as many retail accounts as I wanted to open up. We've had to pull back the reins on our advertising spent, and right now, the only place we spent money on with advertising is Facebook Ads. That's another place. We return over 800% ROI with our Facebook Ads. It's some of the best numbers that any company that we've worked with has seen from Facebook, our return on investment and our click-through rate, all of it. It's the lowest at any company that we've ever worked with and Facebook Ad has ever seen.
We've got a phenomenal product. The problem is we just need to get it in stock so that we can really run full speed with our digital strategy and our retail and wholesale strategy, but we haven't been able to because the demand keeps selling us out. It's crazy.
Felix: When you see all these things that you could be doing that actually you know that are not risky, going to guarantee an ROI, that's going to be worth the time, but you just don't have ... The things that are required just kind of out of your control, how do you grapple with this? Like mentally, like you think, "Man, there's just all these things I could do for the company and all these things I could do to generate post ROI, but it's just not the right timing yet." How do you not be impatient?
Sara: Okay, that's really good, because I can hear some of my staff like probably laughing, impatient, that I'm so impatient, I want everything yesterday. I'm a very aggressive, that's how I've always been in my sales job. That's why I always do well with every company I've ever been with. I am super aggressive and when you give me a task or when I put a task on my plate, I do not stop until I achieve it. It has been really hard, because we are missing out on a lot of opportunity. We almost had to pass up Shark Tank, because they wanted us to tape in June and we could not at the time because we were waiting for our inventory to arrive in August. That's been our MO since we've launched our brand is we've had to ... There's so much opportunity we're missing out on. We deal with collegiates. We have collegiate accounts.
We have so much opportunity with our collegiate accounts, with our retail accounts, with big-box chains, and we can't do any of it right now. Our biggest thing is we don't want the growth to put us out of business either. We know that we have to have slow-controlled growth, and so slow-controlled methodical route is going to come with us making the right decisions internally, which by the way we have a phenomenal thing. That's a whole another thing we need to talk about, but we have a phenomenal thing and we need to make the right decisions that will keep us from growing too fast, because at the end of the day, we have one priority and that is to take care of our customers.
Right now, a lot of our customers think that we're doing a very good job because they are constantly having to wait for our product. They're waiting, that's the crazy thing. We have people that will wait. When we launched Kickstarter, we had people that waited six months to get their product because our manufacturer kind of dropped us on our butts. We had people that waited, and so we want to make sure that first and foremost we're always doing the right thing by the customer, and there's no way I'm going to go open up a retail count or a collegiate account before I take care of our customer, our customers that are waiting for their products or our current vendors. We have a lot of current retail accounts and we cannot even fill their filling orders right now because they're selling them so fast.
Before we scale and bring on new retailers, a new collegiate account, a new anything, we have to make sure we're taking care of the ones we currently have, and that we can take care of them and grow appropriately, and that has been very hard. Now that we have Daymond's team on board, they're definitely been able to come in and helped streamline some of the manufacturing, but we're definitely still leading the ship and we've exhausted rather quickly that they're going to be working with our manufacturers as opposed to us working with their manufacturers. They're coming in really helping guide us and we've been taking advantage by a lot of our manufacturers for a long time. We didn't know this space. They could clearly catch on to that very fast.
As well as we've done on our own, we now have some back up help on their end to kind of try to drive that message home that there is no more taking advantage and we're moving forward. If you want to be a part of this, then we need to step up your game and show us that you can make it happen, so we now have a couple factories that are making our bras simultaneously and that's been a really big asset as we move forward.
Felix: Yeah, that was amazing to have that new added leverage that you didn't have before. What you're saying was that, that stood out to me, was that growth can put you out of business. Can you say a little bit more about this? What did you mean by that? Because a lot of entrepreneurs are thinking, "Man, I can't wait to be growing really fast and bringing all these sales in," but you're saying that if you don't almost have like a slower drip on it or control that growth, it can put you out of business, so tell us more about what you mean? What are some examples of that happening?
Sara: Yeah. Well, a 100%. I mean if you grow too fast and you can't keep up with the demand, you can't keep up with the orders, people just walk away. The thought is let's grow slow and steady, so that once we finally now have that consistent turn, we've got multiple manufacturers making bras, and we can split these orders, and we can bring them in from different areas, we can break down ... We've got a couple big online retailers that could honestly have one whole dedicated line of our manufacturing factory just to them, and so that's what we want to do. We want to make sure that before we bring on or promise too much and then lose out on that opportunity, that we grow that opportunity at the right phase so that when it gets to the point where we can then move on and get other accounts, we've taken care of those accounts and we know we can scale with those accounts.
The worst thing to do is to take on accounts and not be able to scale with them. I mean we're talking about some really big accounts. If you miss one order, if you don't bring the order in on time, if you can't refill those orders after you get that product in, they're not going to come back to you. You're out, you're done.
Felix: It sounds like it almost come down to that, if you're growing too fast, you might lose the trust of people that are giving you the trust because you usually only get one shot at making it ... Not making it right, but like only have one shot at doing it right with these big wholesale accounts or even with individual customers. If you're growing too fast, you might not be able to satisfy them I guess, and then now you've lost that trust so they probably might never come back. Is that what you mean when you say ...
Sara: Yeah, a 100% and the other thing is too, when you're growing like that, that means you're paying for inventory. Two of the biggest things that can kill you as a business owner or as a business is inventory and people. We don't want to bring on inventory and be sitting on inventory just because we think something is going to happen. We feel like we already know what's going to happen, but we want to make sure that we're steering the ship in terms of how quickly it's happening, because we don't want the inventory to sink us, bankrupt us, put us out of business because inventory can do that.
Felix: Just to summarize your Shark Tank experience, I think you end up raising $250,000 for a 33% again from Daymond. You've mentioned that one of the biggest benefits that you got out of this relationship is that his team came in, helped you streamline your manufacturing. Can you tell us little bit more about that? What are some maybe tips or things that they were able to implement for you that maybe the listeners can also use for their own businesses?
Sara: The whole Shark Tank process, it's been different than what you see on TV and it does take some time to move to the process. We're still moving to the process, but early on, I think especially after the show aired, I think it not only showed him credibility or his team credibility and what we have going on, but it validated the fact that, "Hey, they're on to something here." What happened after Shark Tank was huge for us. We knew we had a good product, I think they knew we had a good product, but the customers spoke loud and clear, and so very quickly then after that, we were able to gain a little bit more access. Pretty early on, he put us in touch with his manufacturing/sourcing team I call them and they just were able to teach us a few things. This whole inventory debacle like I told you about, they cautioned us on bringing in too much even after we found out we were going to air on Shark Tank and we had already put our order in.
We were contemplating upping the order before we aired and they highly advised us not to do that because you never know what's going to happen, and if you end up sitting on all the inventory, it could be detrimental. The other thing is our product is very intricate and they learned that very early on when they tried to see if their manufacturers can make our product and the product is really intricate, so we had to make sure and they agreed that we were partnering with the right factory that legitimately could make this product, and could make it right, and wasn't going to cut corners. That's why we had decided at the time to stick with our manufacturers and to bring in Daymond's team to really kind of ...
Basically, what they did is they kind of come in and they've took over the reins of the manufacturing, and we're sitting back and we're learning from there. We're not taking the back seat, we're not walking away. I want to learn the ins and outs of all of these side of it when it comes to manufacturing because we want to bring this in-house eventually, and so we've just been really lucky because we get to learn with them. They picked up and went to China, went to overseas with Bob, and we're able to teach them the ins and outs of the factories and how it works. There's just been a lot of things that they've been able to kind of fast-tracked us on and I think that's the biggest thing is just taking advantage of the opportunity when you have the opportunity whether it's mentors, whether it's other investors, whatever it may be to take the opportunity to take your learning curve and shorten it as much as you can.
Felix: Yes. Are you comfortable talking about like what was the issue that you have with the manufacturer at the time? What did Daymond's team coming in like actually fixed for you guys?
Sara: Well, our biggest thing is just been getting taken advantage. These factories that do these stuff, they've been doing this family after family of decades, and a lot of these factories are owned by their families that have now taken over the business. They were taking advantage of us for sure, they were pushing our lead times, they were charging us more. Every time I turned around, there was a new charge for this, there was a new charge for that, so we're definitely getting taken advantage of. Not only that, but I don't think they took us as seriously. We were starting out with smaller orders. Orders that we could afford. It wasn't until we started placing the bigger orders and we had the help from Daymond's team to kind of come in and talk to them at their level.
My problem is, and even Bob's problem is, we don't have manufacturing experience. We didn't go to school for manufacturing, so it's very hard to talk with a manufacturer or a factory at their level when you're basically as green as it can get. We were working with an agent prior to getting this deal with Shark Tank. We were working with an agent and they literally dropped us, like walked away right in the middle of an order. We have to pick up the pieces and figure out how to bring that order in. Luckily we did that, but we learned so much along the way. That experience taught us so much about the manufacturing process, because we had to pick it up, we had to figure it out. What we're doing now with Daymond's team is letting them steer the ship while we're still learning from then, so that eventually we can take it all over and bring it in-house.
Most of the problems released them from the fact that we were taken advantage of, there were things that they were probably only do to somebody who didn't really understand the manufacturing side of the business if you will, and so his team really came in and just had a really strong tongue with them, wasn't letting things slide the way that we kind of were because we thought that was how it had to go. I think those are some of the biggest things is picking up those pieces for sure.
Felix: Yeah, so I guess they [inaudible 00:54:17] that only comes with experience, and because you guys didn't have that experience, they came in and basically told you like how things were actually working, like where you getting taken advantage of and like where you can push back on things, so that makes a lot of sense.
Sara: Yeah. The thing is they had told us too ... I mean they reiterated the fact that we had done, and I have to pat ourselves on the back and my team too, because we've done a phenomenal job to get it where it's at right now. With the lack of manufacturing experience, it's amazing that we've been able to bring this product to market given how intricate it is, because we've been turned down by so many factories because of the intricacy of the product and they want us to change it, and do this, and do that, but then it changes it to be back to what everybody else is doing. The intricacies of our product is what makes us unique, and so his team reiterated the fact that we've done a phenomenal job getting to this point.
We didn't really need much help. We just needed them to come in and really kind of put that strong tongue down, and crack the whip, and let them know, "Hey, we're not messing around anymore. We're here to stay if you want our business, then you need to do it right, and do it right, and get it done in a timely fashion or else we're moving on." I think just that message alone has allowed us to progress with these manufacturers for sure.
Felix: Hello. Yes, let's talk a little bit about your team. You've mentioned that you have a phenomenal team helping to run this entire business. Give us an idea of who's on the team, what kind of roles you have, and fill it in, and what did they do?
Sara: Yeah, so we all still wear a lot of hats unfortunately. I think we're not very far away from streamlining those roles a little bit more, but right now we all wear a lot of hats. I'm in charge of a lot of the sales, and the creatives, and the design, and a lot of the back and forths with the factories. Bob is in charge of all the financial stuff, all the invoicing, the Pos, the logistics of the shipping in and out, the taxes, the duty of the freight, and there's so much that comes in to that side of it, and then we've got another gentleman, his name is Chris. He's amazing. He's a jack of all trades, too. He's kind of our IT guy, our branding, guru. He does a lot of our marketing. He works in conjunction with our social media team, so we have an outsource social media team.
They run all of our content, so they do our content for like Instagram, and Facebook, and Twitter. They do that, so Chris works a lot in conjunction with them. We have another outsource team that does ... So our social media team, 834 Design, they're amazing and then we do our Facebook Ad span, and our strategy, and all of our digital implementation along with our website build with Hawke Media and they're amazing as well. Chris kind of does a lot of back and the forth with them, so we outsource that Facebooking aspect of it that drives our sales, and then obviously our IT staff. We outsource the social media stuff. They're dabbling in some of our PR. They've done an amazing job with our PR, 834 has as well, and then internally, the team is Bob, myself, and Chris.
We also have another girl that we've just hired out of college list and she runs our shipping department. I'm just running all the shipping and doing everything on my own for quite some time, and that's finally been really nice to be able to employ someone that does all of the shipping. She knows all the returns and the exchanges. All the cleaning of the bras, all the shipping of the bras. She does all of that stuff, and then we also rotate through three interns. We have three interns that have actually been quite amazing. They answer phones, they help with PR, they help with branding, they help with a lot of stuff, so the interns have been really great. Right now, all of us are just focused on shipping and getting product out that's coming in from Shark Tank.
All that stuff is coming in in batches, so we all kind of sit around the clock, and ship, and then go back to our jobs. We also just hired an additional person. We're really excited about her. She's going to be doing a lot of our logistics and our customer service side of things. Our customer service is starting to get really, really overwhelming for just one person, so we've decided to hire her on and she's going to be taking care of that, so our team is quite amazing. One thing, advice I got really early on is to put the right people in place first. Don't worry so much about the plan, but put the right people in place and the right people will help you get to the plan.
I feel like we're doing a really good job of putting the right people on the bus and we're still rather small, but we know internally that, if someone is not fitting or is not jiving, that the best thing to do is just to get them off the bus and put someone better in the sea, and that's just unfortunately how you have to run your business if you want to get to where you want to go.
Felix: That's awesome. Yeah, I wish I have more time to talk about your scaling up because you've grown the company by a ton it sounds like with your team. I think one thing I want to close out on is just you mentioned earlier that I bet the listeners are asking, talking themselves in, and we've got one Felix to ask this question is about your Facebook Ad. You said that you got crazy ROI. Can you talk a little more about that? What have you guys done that you think has made that big difference for you to generate such a positive ROI from your Facebook Ads?
Sara: Well, I have to say as much as I'd like to credit for ... I mean we internally have outsourced that. We dabbled with that a little bit internally and did really well with it. In fact, if I could put that responsibility back in Chris's plate. He did great with that. I mean whenever we run Facebook Ads, they do really well. However, we do outsource that and they have their own algorithm. We actually ... You're going to laugh. We spend about $200 a day right now just on Facebook Ads. That's about what we spend with what we know we can keep up with. We'll be increasing our spend once we know that we have product in and we can push it out a little bit quicker, but Facebook Ad alone has been what has kept our company running, with the exception of Shark Tank that just came only two and a half months ago.
We've done all of our sales on Facebook all alone and I think the reason it does so well is because it's a product that resonates with so many people, is literally is a problem with a lot of women, and we're really tongue-in-cheeky with our ads. We're very tongue-in-cheeky with the fact that women have boobs and they're not going anywhere, and so we like to ... That is really the voice of our brand and we don't like to play it safe, we like to be real, and I think that shows in the content that runs with our ads. When you see the pictures that run with our ads, they're very visual, you can look at the ad and know right away, "Wow, that bra is different. It's unique. Holy cow, that could actually work for me."
I think that what we do visually, what we do with our content, and how they set it up all works into the fact that it does very, very well. They probably never share their secret sauce with us, I don't think they would tell us how running those ads, because then we could probably do it internally here, but they're doing a really good job. Every company that we've actually done our Facebook Ads with has done amazing jobs. We've turned back some amazing ROIs, so I mean just within the last ... I bet you I would venture to say within the last two months, just on Facebook Ads, we've spent $15,000 in return to over $115,000. That's in two months and that's just on running $200 a day because we can't run more than that right now because of the fact that we're waiting for our product to come in.
We can't wait to release those guys and see what they do with our digital strategy. I think it's going to be quite amazing.
Felix: That's awesome, so thanks so much Sara. Shefit.com is the website. SHEFIT.com. Anywhere else you recommend our listeners go and check out, they want to follow along with what you guys are up to?
Sara: My gosh. Yeah, our blog is amazing. We share some amazing stuff on our blogs, everything from health, to fitness, to beauty, and nutrition. Our Instagram is amazing. Get on our Instagram if you want a quick workout regimen, if you want a quick workout move, a recipe, a shake. We share some great stuff on there. That's Shefit Apparel. Our Facebook is great. I'll tell you, follow Shefit Apparel. We'll help you with dinner, we'll help you with your workouts. That's great. Our Pinterest is great, too. That's Shefit Sports Bra. Twitter is @Shefit. All of our social media, we really try to do a really good job of just providing some amazing content, so if you're not following us, [inaudible 01:03:24] check on our blogs, website is Shefit.com, and yeah, I think that's it.
Felix: Awesome. Thank you so much.
Sara: Hey, thank you so much.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the Ecommerce Marketing Podcast for Ambitious Entrepreneurs. Just start your store today, visit Shopify.com for a free trial.
About The Author
Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, and founder of TrafficAndSales.com where you can get actionable tips to grow your store’s traffic and sales.