Known for their progressive values and dark, cynical humor, married couple Matt and Meredith started Boredwalk – a graphic apparel, gifts, and accessories company. Together they create original and clever designs, placing witty copy and art at the heart of everything they do. As introverts, the idea of working for themselves and having control over who they spent time with appealed to them. Thus, the company was born.
Boredwalk has seen drastic growth year after year, and now generates around $150,000 a month. Matt and Meredith’s plan is to hone their skills as marketers while focusing on the things that work. This includes social media and email marketing. Both of them have some amazing advice to share, so we find out what worked well for them.
Who are you and what brand did you start?
We're Matt and Meredith, a married couple based in Los Angeles. Together, we started Boredwalk. We design original, clever graphic goods for men, women, and kids, including apparel, gifts, and accessories. We started Boredwalk in 2014 and are known for our progressive values and dark, cynical humor.
How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Boredwalk?
We have always been creative people. Matt started his career as a graphic designer, and although Meredith started her career as a software engineer, she has a knack for design and humor. We ended up starting our own brand at first to scratch a creative itch, and ultimately we continued to build it so we could quit our day jobs. We are very much introverts, and the idea of working for ourselves and having control over who we spend time with and how much time we spend with those people really appealed to us.
Describe the process of launching Boredwalk?
We had another brand, Ex-Boyfriend, when we started Boredwalk. At the time, Ex-Boyfriend was our primary project and it was deriving revenue from some online sales, some wholesale, and some live events – comic cons, art festivals, craft fairs, and the like. We had just quit our day jobs, and while Ex-Boyfriend was making some money, it wasn't quite covering all our bills. After taking a step back and assessing things, we realized it wasn't on-trend enough and decided to do a second brand that was a little more trend-focused. That is how Boredwalk initially launched.
Boredwalk quickly outgrew Ex-Boyfriend and we ultimately merged Ex-Boyfriend's product line into Boredwalk's collection. It was simply too difficult to manage the two brands separately. We eventually found our footing with Boredwalk and were able to find a happy compromise with doing creative work that suits us and designing with current trends in mind.
When we first started Boredwalk, we relied more on marketplace sales from sites like Etsy, but ultimately we invested in ourselves and paid for training to learn Facebook, Instagram ads, and email marketing.
It is worth noting that when we started Boredwalk, we decided to take over the printing of our products. We tried outsourcing but found no one had the standards for quality and turn around time that was satisfactory for us, so if you want something done your way, you do have to do it yourself. Doing our manufacturing in-house gives us better margins and control, but it does also come with the challenge of purchasing expensive equipment and training and managing employees to operate it (or doing it yourself until you grow enough to be able to hire employees.)
Ultimately, we decided to go with in-house manufacturing because, despite initial cost, it delivers better margins and way more control over product quality and turnaround time for shipments. I know there are tons of print-on-demand (POD) places people can go. I don't think they will ever have the margins they need to really be successful at scale or the product quality they will need to be really successful at scale.
Those POD places are focused on churning stuff out fast so they can make their money. Their print quality just isn't comparable to what we do in-house because of the cost saving measures I know they employ. The costs also make it impossible to acquire customers profitably at scale. For a side hustle or to test the waters I think a POD is probably okay, but if you're trying to grow a real business that provides full time sustainable income and enables you to hire people I really don't recommend going that route.
The other issue is that if you have products the POD doesn't produce, you pay for shipping twice in mixed orders, which hurts your margins. Say you sell books which you have on a shelf in your office and tees which a POD ships. If a person buys a book and a shirt, you are paying for 2 instances of shipping and creating customer service headaches because a lot of those customers will be confused that some of their order isn't in the first shipment they get. You also can't control things like product packaging. There are way too many cons for outsourcing production if you're serious about building a 7 figure (or larger) business based around graphic goods.
The initial cost for us to buy our first set of production equipment was $20,000. That was 6 years ago. There are better machines on the market now but expect to invest about $35,000 to get set up with the best equipment. Going cheap will bite you later. The cheaper machines are way more prone to breaking and the support from the manufacturers on the cheaper machines isn't good. You also need space for the machines. If you are going to start really lean, you could put a set up in an empty home garage temporarily, just to get going, but ultimately you would want commercial space so you can warehouse more inventory, hire staff to operate equipment, etc.
I know that is a lot of money for most people. We were able to do this because we'd already had professional lives before we got into this and were able to make enough money doing that to afford to bootstrap our business. This is why I made my previous comments about capital.
Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
From a digital marketing perspective, our primary marketing channels are social media (paid and organic) and email marketing. In terms of what we do that other people don't, we make it a point to always be entertaining. From ad copy to email campaigns, clever witty copy and art is at the heart of everything we do. We believe that is what makes our brand magnetic and memorable. We also prioritize great customer service and building a great internal team.
Lots of other brands will just show you product pics on social media and send emails that are basically saying "buy stuff." That is not how we do things. We consider ourselves a content business first and foremost. Whether it's a social media post, a campaign email, an ad, or a product design, our primary mission is to be entertaining and relatable. That is what sets us apart from what most other brands do.
With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?
We've seen pretty drastic growth year after year. We continue to hone our skills as marketers and do more of what works (mostly social media and email). The more you grow the more you grow, which I know sounds kind of cliche but it's true.
A business that's doing well is like a snowball going downhill - the further along it goes down the hill, the more snow it picks up and the bigger and faster it can go. If we acquire 1,000 fans this month that become regular customers and at this time next year we do the same thing, we still have a lot of the original 1,000 fans that we acquired previously. This happens month over month and year over year, so the collection of people supporting the business grows. As you get more fans, the more word spreads about your business and the easier it gets to keep building that fandom.
The biggest change from our side that really helped us grow is something most people don't think of - we hired a really great team. We used to be so bad at hiring; we don't consider ourselves people persons, and we didn't spend enough time thinking about what an ideal team would look like. We made our own lives miserable by not getting better at hiring when we started out, but we finally overhauled our process and now have an amazing team in place that helps us with the day to day operations of our company so we can focus on growing it and designing products. We already wrote a detailed post on our blog about how we changed our hiring process - you can check it out here.
How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?
This is a tricky question to answer today, since COVID-19 is ravaging the economy and that's making outlook uncertain for businesses of all sizes. I'll answer this the way I would have answered a month ago, I guess: we are looking to move to a larger facility since we've outgrown our current office and warehouse. We are also looking to build out more of a management team so we can get more responsibilities off of our own plates and focus on what we really do best, which is marketing and product design. We are planning to expand our product offerings into more giftable items, and even do some product collaborations with brands we love.
What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?
- This is going to be much harder than you think it will be.
- You will always be either under-staffed or under-capitalized, or both. It's just a matter of by how much. More on both of these below.
What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?
1) This job is hard - and that's the understatement of a lifetime. A lot of people seem to think starting a business is fun and glamorous and anyone can do it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The amount of complex and disparate topics you need to have working knowledge of and/or expertise on is unimaginable. You will have to learn the ins and outs of operations, manufacturing and sourcing, hiring and managing people, email marketing, social media, paid ad channels and how they all work, SAAS apps, shipping and logistics, probably at least half a dozen facets of the law - including labor law, IP law, contract law, tax law, etc.
If you are not a workaholic with an insatiable intellectual curiosity and exceptional ability to teach yourself complex and difficult new skills quickly, it's going to be almost impossible to succeed at this career. You also have to LEARN TO DO THINGS YOURSELF.
I can't stress this enough.
I see so many people fail because they decide they'll hire someone else to do the hard stuff rather than learning it themselves. This is the path to failure. I have never seen that work for anyone. If you're overwhelmed and intimidated by understanding financials, Google Analytics, Facebook ads, etc., give up. This is a job for someone who will roll up their sleeves and take this stuff on whether they find it interesting or not. You're either a person who can learn complex difficult stuff quickly (even stuff you're not excited about) and solve problems, or you're not equipped to run a business.
2) The other thing people underestimate is how much capital you will need to get a business off the ground. Businesses of all sizes are playing the exact same game, and that game is this: run out of mistakes before you run out of money. This is true whether you're a sole proprietor dog groomer or the largest retail chain in America. We all make mistakes, we all only have so much capital at our disposal, and you have to run out of those mistakes before you run out of capital.
We didn't start this business until we were well into our 30s and had over a decade of professional experience and personal savings and assets. We needed money to live on while we were dedicating our full attention to learning the job. We needed money to buy equipment and inventory. If we didn't have substantial savings to invest in our business we would never have made it out of the gate.
However much money you think you will need to start up, you can double it and it probably won't be enough. Your first Facebook ads will likely fail, you will probably have to spend thousands learning to get good at them. If you are foolish enough to try to hire an agency to solve the problem and have them do it for you, see our previous comments about learning to do things yourself. You will lose more money.
A manufacturer will probably screw you over and leave you with defective merchandise or raw goods and you won't have a way to get your money back. An expensive piece of equipment will probably break just after the warranty period expires and you will have to replace it, or maybe it's still under warranty but the supplier will refuse to honor it. This is all normal. Anyone running a successful 7-figure company or bigger has been through all of that and more. Trying to do this without sufficient capital will make it impossible to really get anything off the ground because you'll run out of money before you run out of mistakes, or run afoul of just plain bad luck.
3) Remember how we said you have to be an expert on a lot of legal topics? One thing that is high on that list is intellectual property law. You really have to educate yourself on this topic to not only avoid infringing on other people's intellectual property, but to know how to protect your own intellectual property. Any successful brand will deal with people trying to counterfeit their product.
You have to get a plan in place to defend your IP and be vigilant about it. Allowing infringement to proliferate does long-term damage to any brand. We have a full time employee that just does IP enforcement. You might not need that on day 1, but it's a problem that comes with success, and you need a plan to deal with it.
What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run Boredwalk?
We try to keep our software stack relatively lean, as most of those products and services feature monthly subscription fees that add up, and we're very hawkish about minimizing cash outflow when it comes to our operations. Since Meredith has a tech background, she's able to code a lot of stuff for us in-house. But of the stuff we use that's out of the box, we lean heavily on Klaviyo for email marketing, Stamped.io for product reviews, and, of course, you can't go wrong with Google Drive for free web-based tools.
We also like QuickBooks Online for bookkeeping and DropBox for file storage and sharing. We also use Slack quite a bit for intra-office communication with our team. We also use HelpScout for managing our customer service tickets. We use ShipStation as a hub for funneling orders from across platforms (meaning, our Etsy orders and website orders all flow into ShipStation.)
As for ad platforms, we have a love/hate relationship with Facebook & Instagram. Google Shopping is OK, but hasn't been very scalable for us. We use Twitter more as a vehicle for our organic, stream-of-consciousness content.
|Project Management||Google Docs, Google Drive|
|Analytics||Google Analytics, Facebook Ads Manager|
|Advertising||Facebook, Instagram, Google|
|Social Media Tools||Later|
See what ecommerce tools other founders are using.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?
On the business side, we like the eCommerce Influence podcast with Austin Brawner & Andrew Foxwell, and eCom Crew with Mike Jackness & Dave Bryant. Steve Chou's My Wife Quit Her Job and Andrew Youderian's eCommerceFuel podcast are also great.
We also enjoy comedy podcasts like Nicole Byer's ‘Why Won't You Date Me’ and Ron Funches ‘Gettin Better’.
Storytelling podcasts like Risk!, and The Moment with Brian Koppelman, where Brian interviews various creative professionals about their journeys and struggles.
Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?
As creative people, we like Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, Craig McCracken, Adam JK, Taylor Tomlinson, Matthew Inman, Ricky Gervais, John Waters, Jake Weisman, Kurt Vonnegut - probably a zillion writers, illustrators, comics, etc., that I'm not thinking of. We are creative professionals, so other artists – from a variety of disciplines – are a huge influence for us.
As far as mentors on the business side, we belong to a private industry group for 7 and 8 figure e-commerce companies and we've met a lot of colleagues through that group who've helped us. There are lots of these groups that cater to different demographics and have different membership requirements. For beginners and low six figure sellers, I recommend groups like Brand Growth Experts and Ecom Crew (they also put out quality free podcast content, as mentioned above). For six figure and up-sellers, I've heard good things about Dynamite Circle, though we don't have our own experience with that one. For 7 figures and beyond, groups like EO (Entrepreneurs' Organization) and eCommerceFuel are great resources.
Any other advice you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Firstly, if you're not the kind of glutton for punishment who's down with working twice as many hours for half the pay as your current job, it's probably not for you.
Second, TV shows which make it sound like starting a business is easy and anyone can do it and you don't need money or experience, are painting the wrong picture. I really dislike this messaging because it sets people up for failure, disappointment, and heartache. I prefer to tell people the truth about what is involved so people know what they are trying to get into. If anyone is put off by that then great – they're being saved by the future heartbreak when they find out for themselves that what I'm saying is all true. People who have the capacity to do this won't be put off by this information and it will help them better understand what to prepare for.
In all my years of people asking me how we did this, I have had one experience where someone wasn't discouraged by hearing the truth. That is the only person I've ever had a conversation with about this stuff who I think will be successful. He listened to everything we told him would happen and accepted it as true and made his plans to approach his business armed with that information. More often than not, people don't like what we have to say about doing this. But if it prevents them from investing more time and money in something they can't realistically do I think that is for the best.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?
We don't have any jobs open right this minute. We do plan to hire an ops manager and director of marketing in the next 12 months though. We are not really looking for investors.