If launching a brand is difficult, reinventing a category is… also difficult. So, in honor of our 5th birthday, Rich and I wanted to share a few things we’ve learned along the way.
Where to begin...
Rich and I took a trip several years ago and slept on some pretty amazing sheets, but when we tried to purchase them — holy sticker shock. It sent us on a journey to understand where those seemingly exorbitant costs came from - and realized that by bringing great product to consumers from the best vendors we could upend the industry and bring innovation to a space where there hadn’t been much. However! Rich and I aren’t textile industry veterans and had no idea where to begin. We faced a lot of rejection in this process, and had to develop a thick skin and listen strategically, filtering out naysayers who based their rejections on arbitrary hunches. We also didn’t have a secret sauce to finding our vendors, so it was really a matter of Googling, cold-calling and asking everyone we knew if they happened to know somebody they could introduce us to. What we learned through this process and try to share with people that have an idea for a business but don’t know how to begin - you just have to start somewhere, educate yourself so you can ask the right questions, and network to find people who could help you turn your idea into a reality.
Make a few mistakes!
There were a lot of challenges (and there still are), but one funny story from the early days was when we learned about shrinkage - as in, new sheets will shrink approximately a small percentage in the first couple washes. Naturally, Rich and I made the necessary adjustments to the bedding dimensions when we placed our first product order with our factory, arranged for pre-washing, and patted ourselves on the back for avoiding sending mini-sheets to thousands of customers. What we didn’t know though, was that factories are so well-versed in this, that they generally adjust dimensions for shrinkage as a matter of course. So, you can imagine the resulting confusion (except from the deep-mattress owners)... Luckily, we were able to correct this pretty quickly, but it certainly was a big challenge and learning in terms of managing our supply chain, as well as returns and customer service!
How am I going to pay for all of this?!
Funding (as in, raising money from a VC or an investor) empowers you to execute on your vision, especially if it is ambitious regarding growth, more quickly. A business needs a lot of capital to operate, market, and scale and with this type of funding, you can roll out products and new categories faster as well as hire a team to support and execute on the growth and operations of the business.
Rich and I didn’t do this, choosing instead to bootstrap (aka rely on our own savings, launching a Kickstarter campaign and operating revenues to grow the company). This turned out to be extremely beneficial to use as it forced us to do everything ourselves (like packaging and shipping!) and to remain capitally efficient, or Brooklinen wouldn’t have celebrated a first birthday! We relied on word of mouth and organic and creative methods for building buzz and even had to sell our first round of sheets as pre-orders. Bootstrapping allowed us to hone our creative vision and grow steadily at first while maintaining profitability, ultimately enabling us to prove out our business and putting us in a great position to find the right investors for us, and to be able to use the capital in a really smart way based on our experience of operating on a very tight budget before doing a raise.
So now we’ve got a business, but how do we build a brand?
Rich and I have always had a clear vision of our aesthetic and what we wanted our brand to be - luxurious and beautiful without being fussy, accessible and relatable to life as we knew it, and fun, with a little bit of edge. We like being playful and having a sense of humor, and always wanted the brand to be multifaceted and not too perfect. Probably the biggest challenge we faced in this respect was making sure everything that we are doing feels cohesive. We are naturally eager to explore and try new things and new mediums, so I’d say that the guiding light and direction we get from the awesome creative team that we have built is to continuously work on having a common thread (no pun intended) throughout the work that we do - be it via consistency in fonts, styles, brand colors, and even our approach to lighting and photography - so that we are always whipping up and pushing ourselves to try new things, but you always know it has that signature Brooklinen vibe behind it.
So now we have a brand, but how do we build a team?
Company culture has always been incredibly important to Rich and I - we’ve both worked in a variety of environments prior to Brooklinen, which were really great for setting examples of things we wanted to recreate and emulate, and things we wanted to avoid. Through our prior experiences, we both realized that achieving a great company culture is:
Purposeful - it doesn’t just happen
Ever-evolving - the needs of a 3-person-team are different from a 10-person-team, and the needs of a 10-person-team are different from that of a 40-person, and so on
Considered - you want to be able to attract and retain the best people for your business, and foster an environment where they feel happy, motivated, and passionate about the company - they’ll pass those feelings to the customer!
We strive to constantly have a culture that is friendly, respectful, encourages a frequent exchange of ideas, is solution-driven and self-motivated. We do that by trying to model these qualities ourselves and chose to hire a very experienced VP of People very early into our existence as a company to set us up for success.
Rich and I had a crazy dream, that all of you helped turn into a reality. We are so grateful to be able to celebrate our fifth birthday with you!