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EPISODE 21

From Mission to Millions: How Bombas Leveraged its Company Mission to Find Success

With Randy Goldberg, the Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of Bombas Socks

As Randy Goldberg says, ‘no one dreams of going into the sock business.’ But if there is one sock company you can name off the top of your head, it’s probably the one Randy built with co-founder Dave Heath. Bombas Socks has grown from a small Ecommerce company with a mission into a $100-million dollar enterprise, and the success they’ve had all boils down to remembering the fundamentals. 

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Randy takes us through his journey to Bombas. He details why founders need to avoid ‘shiny object syndrome’ and focus their sights on the basics if they want to succeed. Plus, he talks about Bombas’ culture of transparency and how to decide between leading with the company mission or the merits of the product when trying to attract customers.

Key Takeaways:

  • Bring in the Right People. Scaling requires people — employees, execs, investors, and mentors. Lean on your network, ask questions, hire carefully, and create a dialog with other D2C companies to learn from them. Pro tip: It’s time to bring someone else in when you start to ask questions that neither you nor anyone on your team can answer
  • Ask Yourself, “What Matters More?” When it comes to getting better conversions, don’t let shiny objects distract you. For example, changing the copy or placement of a video matters a lot less than the speed of the site. The faster your site speed, the more conversions you will have. Stay focused on what investments really convert
  • Transparency Impacts the Bottom Line. When employees feel invested in the company and comfortable in the environment you create, they begin to ask more questions, buy-in to the company mission, and work harder to achieve success for themselves and the company

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“We looked at the success that Toms had been having and saw their one-for-one business model, and Warby Parker had just launched at the time and they had a charitably inclined business. … Then we started to think about socks and we just got obsessed. We were like, socks haven’t changed in 50 years. …We thought there was an opportunity to make something really great, to really improve on a product that people take for granted, and that are an afterthought in the consumer market, to help solve a problem that’s an afterthought for shelters and organizations.”

“From the beginning, we wanted to have a really solid conservative financial outlook to get to profitability quickly and build a business for the long-term. We want our grandkids to be wearing Bombas. That’s one of our core values. That plays into the way that we built the business from the unit economics and financial side of things as well as the way that we approach marketing.”

“Know what you do really well, know why your company exists, why your product deserves to exist in the world, and then focus on doing that well, focus on telling the same story over and over and over again.”

“There has been a constant debate at Bombas since day one about what comes first and the way we talk about the company — the quality of the product, comfort, or the mission. Some people come for the product and stay for the mission, and some people will come for the mission and stay for the product. I don’t think we’ve solved that debate. We poll our customers and we’re surveying people and we’re thinking about this a lot, but I think the thing that works the most in marketing for prospects, people who haven’t heard about our company, is talking about comfort, is talking about the quality of the product. The mission definitely helps complete a sale, helps with the follow on sales, and our customers, people who’ve already made purchases, expect us to close the loop, report back on how we’re doing with the donations that we promise we would do on their behalf. That storytelling element helps us with both sides of it. It’s just about where we show up with the mission and where we show up with the product marketing, at what time in the life cycle. It’s an ongoing debate and we stay nimble around it, but those are still the two elements, and they have been since the beginning that show up the most in our communication.”

“The idea of what a website looks like when it’s your only store is so important. You want to have that right blend of storytelling, but you want people to be able to breeze through the checkout process the right way. That’s been a journey for us. … You’re always building, you’re always tweaking, you’re always improving. You’re looking at the data and you’re making changes to just make it better.”

“If you were starting a direct to consumer company in 2009 and you didn’t have a lot of money that you would raise, building the website itself would have been prohibitively expensive for most brands. … Now, if you want to launch a direct to consumer company, the technology is basically free, getting that website up, but the marketing is prohibitively expensive. It’s totally flipped.”

“We knew no matter what company we started together, building a culture of transparency, where people really understood the ‘why’ behind the business, the core values, the financial performance, what their ownership meant, and a culture of being able to ask questions, that was hallmark from the beginning. We just wanted to create the company that we would have loved to have worked at and centering our employees in the business, and thinking about them just as much as we do our bottom line. Our theory was that it would make the bottom line better. People would be more inclined to give something beyond their capacity or to continue to learn or to grow if they felt safe and supported at the company.”

“For us, it was important to really be disciplined [with ad spend on Facebook]. We knew that if we were going to grow our budget and grow our company, and we were a really marketing-led company, we’d have to diversify away. So, Hello Podcasts, radio, direct mail, TV, those are all big parts of the business now, and they’re all growing probably at a faster rate as a percentage at least of the business than our online ads on Facebook.”

“One of the keys for us is consistency. The more you’re telling the same story in different nuanced ways, the easier you make it for other people to tell your story on your behalf.”

[On the future of Ecommerce] “The percentage of people who get comfortable shopping online, that’s only going to go up. Companies are going to invent new ways to make it easier for people to buy their product, to review their product, to look at it. I think ease is the name of the game. In a world that’s going to be more and more competitive, the way to stand out is going to change. It’s not going to look like it looks right now, and having the attitude that, even if you’re doing something ‘right,’ that the way to succeed in a few years is going to be a different version of right, then you’ll be okay.”

Mentions:

Bio:

“Randy Goldberg is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Bombas. He is responsible for bringing the brand to life, creatively conveying the Bombas brand and mission, and leading the design team to create product that boasts an innovative combination of fashion, function, and philanthropy.

Goldberg graduated from The McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University with a BS in Finance, and is a veteran in digital creative, copywriting, strategy and branding. He has consulted, written and developed unique content for top companies including Nike and Vitaminwater, and led the creative development of digital media brand UrbanDaddy. Prior to Bombas, Randy also founded Tennis Partners, a creative consultancy, and Pop Up Flea, a personally curated pop-up market of new and vintage men’s goods. Randy has been featured on NBC TODAY Show, CBS This Morning, Bloomberg TV, Esquire.com and was named the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year by Georgetown Business.”

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Up Next In Commerce. This is your host, Stephanie Postles, co-founder of mission.org. Today, I’m really excited to have Randy Goldberg on the show, the co-founder and Chief Brand Officer at Bombas. Randy, welcome.

Randy:

Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.

Stephanie:

Really excited to have you. Thanks for taking the time. I’d love to dive into your background a little bit before we get into Bombas, a little bit about what brought you into the world of Ecommerce and starting Bombas.

Randy:

Yeah, I guess, we have a sock company, an Ecommerce sock company. I say this a lot, but I don’t think anybody ever really grows up dreaming of being in the sock business. It was kind of a winding path for me to arrive at Bombas and to think about this company. My background is in branding, so I was a copywriter and a strategist, and I worked for digital agencies and I worked for a lot of brands through the years. Writing brand books, trying to find out where they had gone astray, brands that were sort of struggling a little bit. I think through that work, I gained a perspective on what I thought a good company looked like, talked like, acted like. At some point, I moved from the agency side to the media side and I was working at a digital media company, and that’s where I met Dave Heath, my co-founder in Bombas, and we sort of cooked up the idea when we were working together way back then in 2011.

Stephanie:

Cool. Why did you guys think, I want to start a sock company? Did you both want to start this or did one have to pitch to the other?

Randy:

Yeah. Well, I don’t think we thought of it as a pitch. We were friends and we were both very entrepreneurial in our outlook. Our families were entrepreneurs. We just, I think, had that same point of view on the world, and we liked the idea of maybe starting a business one day. We weren’t actively writing things on a whiteboard and crossing off a list, but we would just talk about things and the business landscape at the time. It wasn’t, we need to get this done this year, we were just having a regular day, and Dave was on Facebook, and he saw a campaign that the Salvation Army had been doing with Hanes.

Randy:

The Salvation Army, they had a quote in there that said socks are the most requested clothing item in homeless shelters. We were having lunch, and Dave said, “I saw this quote, did you have any idea about socks and homeless shelters?” And I said, “No, and I don’t even understand why.” We started to call around to some shelters in New York, and we were talking to people and we just realized that there was a real problem here. If you’re living on the streets, a fresh pair of socks, foot hygiene means a lot. You might be walking more and have less frequent opportunities to wash your clothing. And then, shelters don’t accept used socks for donations. So they were always having a shortage and it was always a big need and people would have to buy new socks and then donate them.

Randy:

People just tended to donate the things that they had worn or gently used. We really just wanted to help solve the problem. So, we started thinking about that, we started buying socks and donating them. Then, I guess just the way our minds work, we started to think there’s probably an opportunity here. We looked at the success that Toms had been having and saw their one-for-one business model, and Warby Parker had just launched at the time and they had a charitably inclined business. We thought, maybe this business model really works for this product. It really maps well to it. Just because this is a product that people really aren’t allowed to donate on their own.

Randy:

Then we started to think about socks and we just got obsessed with socks. We were like, socks just haven’t changed in 50 years. Athletic socks look the same. They’re cardboard, they’re white or they’re black. Even if you’re somebody who cares tremendously about the things that you wear, where they come from, what you’re putting on your body, the last thing you get to generally is socks. We thought there was an opportunity to make something really great, to really improve on a product that people take for granted, and that are afterthought in the consumer market, to help solve a problem that’s an afterthought sort of for shelters and organization.

Randy:

Just like, if we can make something really great, we’ll sell a lot, and if we sell a lot, we can donate a lot, and if we donate a lot, we can help solve a problem in the community where we work and live. It’s easy to look back and say that, but at the time, it just took a while for us to wrap our head around this and think about it as a business idea.

Stephanie:

Very cool. I will say that I’m definitely someone who had socks as an afterthought, but I will say when I tried on Bombas, I was like, this is a whole different level of socks. I didn’t realize I cared about them at all. I would normally just get black ones and just be like, whatever, as long as they’re short, I don’t care. Then I tried them on, I’m like, oh, these are game changing. They’re amazing.

Randy:

Thank you. I think that’s what we’re going for. We want to change the way people think about socks, and make it hard for you to go back once you put on a pair of Bombas.

Stephanie:

Oh yeah. You can’t. In the early days, when you were starting out, how did you think through the economics of developing the one to one program?

Randy:

The early days for us, that meant making sure that we could, from the start, bake into the unit economics, the donation pair, so that no matter what anyone said along the path, if we were raising money, if we were building the business, that there’s nothing anybody could do because we were ironclad around the donation model. We built it into the covenant of the business. We’ve codified it. It’s just something no one could ever really take away, but just focusing on it from the beginning and making sure that we could afford to do it, as a for profit enterprise, was a big early step. We’ve grown and we’ve gotten smarter about it and we’ve built a big network of giving inside of the company. It’s all gotten bigger and better, but it really started with that idea.

Randy:

I think that’s the right question. Did you think about it from the beginning? Yes, or else we wouldn’t have been able to do it and maybe somewhere along the road, we would have compromised, but it’s been a big part of how we’ve talked about the business and the brand and a big part of the success of the company, and having a great product on the side for the consumer allows us to afford the development costs of the donation product, which is an important thing to make sure we’re making a product for people who are experiencing homelessness or living on the street. All of these things have been really thought out from the start.

Stephanie:

It’s amazing. I think I saw that you reached profitability by year three. What does your revenue look like now, annually?

Randy:

Well, we don’t typically share exact revenues like numbers, but it’s a multiple hundred million dollar a year company at this point and profitable.

Stephanie:

Very cool. Yeah, I think that’s what I saw, but I wanted it to come from you instead of me saying what I think that I read.

Randy:

Yeah. You read correctly. Yeah, so profitability, I think you’re seeing a lot of direct to consumer companies and Ecommerce companies now really starting to think about profitability in this moment. The way that people are raising money and what companies who are handing out money have been looking for, it’s forcing a lot of companies who’ve raised a lot of money and had profitability as a down the road kind of goal, shift how they’re operating and shift how they’re thinking. I see that, and I’ve talked to founders who were dealing with this and it seems really painful. I think for us, it was a goal from the beginning. We wanted to have a really solid conservative financial outlook, get to profitability quickly, build a business for the long-term, for the long haul.

Randy:

We want our grandkids to be wearing Bombas. That’s one of our core values. I think that plays into the way that we built the business from the unit economics and financial side of things as well, and the way that we approach marketing, which obviously as you know, as a direct to consumer company, is the hot topic, of course.

Stephanie:

Yep. Were there any issues that you ran into along the way? Because scaling to over a hundred million revenue is probably pretty tough. Is there any lessons you learned along the way or things that you’re like, ooh, we did this great, or we maybe should have done this a bit different?

Randy:

I think the number one lesson is about focus. Know what you do really well, know why your company exists, why your product deserves to exist in the world, and then focus on doing that well, focus on telling the same story over and over and over again. Whenever we’ve been able to really focus on that product on the donation, on the sort of foundational elements of the business, that’s when we’ve done the best, and that’s when the company has grown really well. When we’ve gotten distracted by, hey, let’s try this pop-up retail idea, or let’s advertise in this new place that is unproven, but seems good for this one specific reason, and it’s taken our focus away from the things that we do best, that’s where we’ve had the most trouble. I think that’s been the big theme for us in the early years, is just focus has really led to growth, and it’s where we’ve had the most success as a company.

Stephanie:

Very cool. When thinking about the first conversion or a brand new customer, do you think the social good aspect of the business sells the product initially? Because it’s pretty hard to convey how good the socks are on the website.

Randy:

Yeah, it is. It’s hard until you, I guess, you try them on, and we just want to get as many socks on feet as possible. But yeah, there has been a constant debate at Bombas since day one about what comes first and the way we talk about the company. The quality of the product comfort or the mission, our commitment to give back to the community. Some people come for the product and stay for the mission, and some people will come for the mission and stay for the product. I don’t think we’ve solved that debate. We poll our customers and we’re surveying people and we’re thinking about this a lot, but I think the thing that works the most in marketing for prospects, people who haven’t heard about our company, is talking about comfort, is talking about the quality of the product.

Randy:

The mission definitely helps complete a sale, helps with the follow on sales, and our customers, people who’ve already made purchases, expect us to close the loop, report back on how we’re doing with the donations that we promise we would do on their behalf. That storytelling element helps us with both sides of it. It’s just about where we show up with the mission and where we show up with the product marketing, at what time in the life cycle. It’s an ongoing debate and we stay nimble around it, but those are still the two elements, and they have been since the beginning that show up the most in our communication.

Stephanie:

Cool. The other thing I saw that you all had was the happiness guarantee, which I was like, how do they remain profitable? Because one of the things I think I saw in there was, if your kid outgrows a sock in a year, which I have three kids, so I’m like, that could happen quick, or if your dog chews up a sock, which our dog, [Tossy 00:11:14], does that every day, how do you make sure that people aren’t abusing those rules? How did you come up with that happiness guarantee?

Randy:

I think for us, we think about the great companies that we all like to work with, or shop at, or interact with. A common theme is that they have great customer service and they stand by their products. We wanted to make that a hallmark of Bombas. In the early days, Dave would take all of the calls that would come in to our phone number on his cell phone. So we would be out talking about the business or in a bar, back when there were bars. He would get a phone call and go outside, and an hour later, he’d come back and he’d just talk to a customer. I think that idea of just making sure that we’re taking care of the people who are spending money with us, that led to the idea of the happiness guarantee.

Randy:

We have our internal customer service team, they’re called the customer happiness team, and we’ve also, just sort of connecting it back to the business, to get back to your question, people who interact with our customer service team have two times the lifetime value of customers who don’t. We’re trying to turn issues that people have into positive experiences, and that turns people into bigger longterm customers, because then they trust us, they trust that we take care of them. Sure, there are people who try and abuse the policy, but that’s far outweighed by the number of people who are just trying to solve a problem, or get to the bottom of something and want things to be right and don’t want to have to jump through a lot of hoops to get there.

Randy:

For us, the good of having that really strong internal team to deal with our customers and to respond to problems, and yes, to make sure that if your kid outgrows the sock that’s expensive or that … We’ll be there to grow along with you. All those things are … we just want peace of mind as people go through the process and think about, should I be making this purchase right now?

Stephanie:

That’s great. How do you train your customer happiness team? Because I feel like it takes a certain kind of person to be peppy and to, like you said, have a higher lifetime value with the people who interact with that team. What kind of training process do they go through?

Randy:

It’s pretty rigorous. I think Dave passed on the mentality of our customer happiness team to the person who originally ran the program, and he’s still running that team. I think, like almost everything at Bombas, when we have something that we want to do and we feel like we’ve reached the limit of how we can handle it ourselves, we try and bring in people who are way smarter than we are and have the right skillset, and really focused on hiring great people. It also helps that, people who come to work at Bombas, tend to want to give back to the community and are inclined to support and work for a company that cares about that as well. Then, we in turn, care tremendously about our company and the company culture, and all of those things lead us to find, I think, the people who are right for the roles and write for the company and speak to those core values, and that’s how it works with the happiness team.

Randy:

They’re trained, not only on what to say in the situations that come up most often, but how to deal with Bombas customers, how to put the extra spin on it. It’s about, I guess, just that level of care. Our whole team really appreciates that customer service team, and we make sure that they know how appreciated and important they are as the first line of defense for our customers internally as a team. I think giving them the support and love that they need as the team that has to deal with a lot, and has to clean up mistakes when they happen and make sure that everybody’s happy, and then understanding how we want them to communicate with the world as a brand. The way that we talk in an ad versus a video, versus on the phone with the customer, versus internally, none of that should really be different, right? We’re trying to be really consistent as a brand.

Stephanie:

How do you create that consistency? Because I can see as a company grows, and I’ve seen this happen before, where you start developing silos and the teams are kind of off doing their own thing, maybe trying their own marketing campaigns, and it starts getting a little bit chaotic. How have you kept a consistent culture and feel at Bombas?

Randy:

Yeah. We’re not immune to some of the issues that you just brought up. But just recognizing it, being honest about it, trying to get ahead of those things, and focusing on that core messaging and communicating well internally. We’re also at the stage where we’re really thinking about planning and processes as a company as we’ve grown to 150 employees and being remote, how we interact and how we work cross departmentally. Those types of things are at the front of mind right now. We’re hearing it from our team, we listen to ideas, we bring in people to help us. I think we’re laser focused on making sure that some of those breakdowns and that siloed work doesn’t get the best of us. We have seen that and we’re working on it.

Randy:

I think any company that starts off operating like that, when you have five or 10 people, that would be overbearing, and I don’t think the type of people who end up coming to a company that small would appreciate that, but as you grow, you have to adjust and you have to get ahead of it so that people keep that same feeling of freedom in terms of thought, in terms of how they can innovate in their work and get things done, and expectations around their jobs, all that stuff becomes really important to be more documented, to have tighter processes so that people feel freer to do the things that they love to do. That’s what we’re trying to work on, but it’s not an easy thing.

Stephanie:

Yeah. It’s definitely a tough juggle. If someone were to join and they’re employee number five, and then all of a sudden, there’s 150 employees, it’s like, okay, well, I used to be able to do everything at the company, and now you want me to shrink my role. A tough thing to work through with employees.

Randy:

Yeah. It’s a challenge. You want to retain the people who made Bombas, Bombas, but you also want to make sure that people are growing in the right way, and there are opportunities, and the new people who come in at certain levels understand what they’re supposed to do and what everybody else is supposed to do. You just start to get into these things that maybe you thought you would never have to deal with if you started a company, but as it grows, this is what it looks like.

Stephanie:

Yup. Were there any resources that you leveraged along the way when you were growing quickly, when you were like, I need to learn this or I need to figure this out, or companies that you were watching to learn from?

Randy:

Yeah. I think that’s been our mindset since the beginning. Just from our early advisory board, just to fill in the gaps, to hires that we’ve made, the things that we tend to lean on are people. Dave and I are like, we don’t know the first thing about performance marketing, when we started this business. We need to bring in somebody who’s an expert in that, or at least, have somebody on our advisory board who can help answer questions for us as we grow that until we have that right person, or to help us find the right person. That’s been a big part of how we’ve grown this business, is leaning on our network to reach out to people, to ask questions, to make good hires, and then watching other D2C companies and having a good dialogue with the other D2C companies who have grown to our size and larger. That’s been really helpful as well.

Randy:

Then you also think about companies like Toms. They’ve been really helpful to us, in terms of watching out for certain mistakes that they’ve made along the way with their donation aspects of their business. They’ve been really open with us about those things and helping us avoid them. We try and do the same with other companies who reach out and want advice from us as well.

Stephanie:

Very cool. How did you think about building out the website? What kind of things did you want to have on there to make sure that you kept with the brand story, but also, sold enough to be able to be profitable to keep the model working?

Randy:

It’s a great question. The idea of what a website looks like when it’s your only store is so important. You want to have that right blend of storytelling, but you want people to be able to breeze through the checkout process the right way. That’s been a journey for us. I don’t think it’s anywhere near where we want it to be, but I would think that you would ask any direct to consumer company and they have a lot they want to do, and their technology roadmap is pretty long, and that’s part of it. You’re always building, you’re always tweaking, you’re always improving. You’re looking at the data and you’re making changes to just make it better.

Randy:

In the beginning, at some point we have to replatform. But just the processes along the way to get us from where we started to where we are now, to where we’re heading, it takes a lot of care and attention. Like I said, when it’s your only store, I think it’s your job and your duty to make sure that it works and operates really well.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I completely agree. How did you know it was time to replatform and what was that experience like?

Randy:

I knew it was time when we just had so many issues with managing traffic or the backend or uploading content. It was wrong. We launched the business and the website in 2013. Since 2013, there’ve been a lot of changes in technology and the way that Ecommerce works and looks. If you went back to a site from 2013, as a 2020 consumer, you wouldn’t last a minute. You’d be out.

Stephanie:

You’d bounce right away.

Randy:

You’d bounce. There was a lot more tolerance then, but less people using Ecommerce because the experience just wasn’t great. I think, if you go back even further, and I think about this a lot, if you were starting a direct to consumer company in 2009 and you didn’t have a lot of money that you would raise, building the website itself would have been prohibitively expensive for most brands, for most companies. But if you managed to get it up, the marketing was basically free. There was no algorithm that was holding your content back. If you had a Facebook page, whatever you posted, everyone who followed you with anyone who shared it, and anyone who got added to your page, not some of these early companies, resources to build a site were able to build huge businesses.

Randy:

But then, as it shifted, now, if you want to launch a direct to consumer company, the technology is basically free, getting that website up, but the marketing is prohibitively expensive. It’s totally flipped. We just happened to launch, I think, in a sweet spot where the technology had gotten more affordable and the marketing was still affordable, but it was not free like it had been in 2009, and it wasn’t very hard or challenging environment like it is now. We sort of had time to figure out both pieces, and we had runway to figure out the marketing and we could afford the technology. Then that got a lot better, and just have to stay on top of and ahead of all those things.

Stephanie:

That makes sense. To focus on the website piece first, and then we can jump into the marketing aspect, so the website, was there any like big fundamental changes that you made where you’re like, this made the biggest difference when it came to sales and conversions and even getting traffic in the first place? Anything that you remember that you change where you’re like this had the biggest improvement for us or a couple of things?

Randy:

Site speed, I think is the number one thing. As a person who comes from the creative side of the business, a copywriter or strategist, there’s nothing that I could do from my previous job or as a brand person that would make the improvement of one second of site speed in terms of how something loads or how it acts. Just sort of getting over some of the sort of shiny objects into saying, oh, if we change the copy here, or what if we put this video here, or had this type of look on our site? If you make your site faster, it will convert better. Things like that, just understanding the fundamental way things move and what people want from you, layering the other stuff on top then becomes just sauce and becomes fun. Then you can start to have incremental changes and things that work. But I think, just looking at site speed, if you want one good thing, that’s where I would start, as dry as that might be.

Stephanie:

Yeah. No, that’s a great one. Was there anything affecting the site speed that you were surprised by?

Randy:

I think the way that you manage and load images, obviously has a big effect on that. Your product architecture and understanding

Randy:

I think some of these things you don’t realize when you’re starting out, but the way things are organized, hosted, served, there’s sort of best in class ways of doing that now. But if you want to have your variants of your products perform a certain way, or if you want to create bundles in a different way than most companies do it, then all of a sudden, you’re creating … you could be creating extra things that are weighing your site down, even though you think … it helps you organize the things that you want to sell the way that you see them in your mind. It doesn’t always benefit you because maybe you’re slowing things down. If people are bouncing before they’re even seeing it, then what’s the point? Again, this isn’t my area of expertise, but these are the things that you learn along the road when you’re doing everything in a business when there’s five people.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I think that backend infrastructure piece is hard to focus on in the beginning because you’re so excited about the product and the marketing, and like you said, getting good copywriting and telling your friends that you don’t really think about how to set up, maybe the data and the backend piece to actually create a good performing website.

Randy:

Totally. Listen, like I said, my background was in branding. I was a copywriter. I think we built this business around the brand because it’s, in many ways, a commodity that you turn into a brand. You do that by being really consistent and having good storytelling and build a moat through brand. But none of that exists if you don’t get the infrastructure piece right, and you can’t get to that. I talked to founders who were starting companies, and they’re so focused on hiring the right creative agency or branding agency, they’ll put together the right logo, and it’s just not the right place to start in my mind, even though I love that work and I love thinking about that for companies and thinking about how you communicate to the world and understanding why your product exists, but without that fundamental infrastructure piece, no one’s going to care about that other piece. It’s just maybe a little bit of a sad truth for creative side of business people.

Stephanie:

That’s okay. Got to hear it sometimes.

Randy:

That’s right.

Stephanie:

One thing I saw that you guys were doing was that you were investing in a data science team and embedding more data elements into the customer journey. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and how you knew it was the right time to bring on a team like that?

Randy:

How will you know it’s the right time is that when you start to ask questions that you can’t answer, and nobody internally can answer it. That’s the truth, and when one person …

Randy:

You also know when you’re having a debate about something in the business and somebody is able to pull out data or a statistic related to what you’re talking about, and the conversation ends because it’s hard to argue with the data. When you see that and you’ve thought about it the other way, and you’re not trying … You can’t convince data, right? I know [crosstalk] manipulated.

Stephanie:

There’s no argument there.

Randy:

That’s right. Then you sort of think, this is really valuable, and rather than trying to think about something from the perspective of, I think it should work this way, you want something to show you how it should work, and you want to be able to interpret data the right way and be able to use it to your advantage to build out a strategy, rather than just making assumptions and going off of somebody who has the most experience or who has the most seniority. I think companies get in trouble when they just rely on the loudest voice in the room or somebody who’s the most persuasive at arguing rather than bring data as a voice into the room for decision making.

Randy:

I think it started to creep in when we would understand a little bit what we don’t know, and then have debates that were a little bit out of our depth and we didn’t have the right people. We didn’t really have that skill in the beginning. We knew that it would be a big part of this business, even back in 2013. We just knew that it wasn’t the first thing we were going to invest in. It just sort of came naturally to the time. We were always excited about the idea of what a data science team could bring to the table for a sock company. There was a point where you almost can’t operate without it anymore.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s awesome. What does it look like now having that team, and what kind of metrics are you guys paying most attention to?

Randy:

A lot of the metrics are the same. You’ll see a lot of Ecommerce companies paying attention to, but what the team looks like, and what’s interesting is, now that we have the team in place, getting other teams to work with that team the right way is the key, and getting our directors and decision makers accustom to partnering with the data team, to help surface solutions to problems and present them and work, it goes back to some of the work that we’re doing, trying to figure out the processes and cross departmental work and to avoid some of the siloed behavior that you brought up earlier. A big part of that is the data team and how they can help support. There’s support teams within an organization, there’s execution teams, and that’s very much a support team, and they love answering questions for teams, and some teams use the data and analytics team more than others.

Randy:

We just try and be really loud about it at our all hands meetings and present back case studies so that people understand how they could better use that team. It’s a process and something that was getting better all the time, but you just sort of have to make it central to how you operate as a company. That doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a big change. We’ve been working on that for the last six months to a year in a major way. I think it’s really paying off for us.

Stephanie:

Very cool. Yeah, I definitely have seen business intelligence teams in the past struggle with being able to create a partnership with the product team or the engineers. I like the idea of showing a case study. So instead of pushing it on a team member, it’s like, well, here’s what another team did. Look how great this turned out, and encourage them to want to partner with that team even more.

Randy:

Yeah. You’re making decisions, how many times a year should we … We’re not a promotional company. But if you wanted to ask a question, like how often should we do a sale? There’s logical times of the year when you think that should happen, and the merchandising team might have a different perspective than the marketing team, and using the data team to think about the effect on customers or prospects. There’s so much information that could help steer a decision like that, that is major to the business. Those are the types of things where you start to see a lot of power in the team like that.

Stephanie:

Yeah. We’re talking about data. I want to also shift into the aspect of transparency. I read that you and your co-founder both had subpar experiences with transparency at previous companies you were at. I wanted to hear, how do you think about being … Well, first tell me the story. I want to know all the nitty gritty details, and also how did that influence your culture now?

Randy:

Sure. I don’t know, the cliff notes is that was a major influence on our culture now, but we had the experience together. Like I mentioned, we worked together at a previous company, and at that company, the person who ran the company brought amazing people together, and there was a great team, and the work was fulfilling and we learned a lot, but it was really hard to have conversations around career growth or compensation, or how well is the company doing? Or data. One person tended to hold on to decisions for so long that it was counterproductive and it was demotivating for people. You felt nervous to even ask a question, and nobody understood their stock options. You would ask questions about it and you’d get them response months later.

Randy:

That sort of fogginess around the things that people really care about when they’re going to work at a smaller company, it was really hard for us. We knew no matter what company we started together, building a culture of transparency, where people really understood the why behind the business, the core values, the financial performance, what their ownership meant, and a culture of being able to ask questions, that was hallmark from the beginning. We just wanted to create the company that we would have loved to have worked at and centering our employees in the business, and thinking about them just as much as we do our bottom line. Our theory was that it would make the bottom line better. People would be more inclined to give something beyond their capacity or to continue to learn or to grow if they felt safe and supported at the company.

Stephanie:

Cool. Yeah, that definitely is a good way to build a company from the ground up, and maybe not fun to have that experience, but hey, you learn from the best people you work for and the worst people you work for.

Randy:

Absolutely. I wouldn’t trade that experience because that’s what led to the culture that we’ve built at Bombas. I think, if you talk to our employees and the way they think about it, we’re maybe more proud of that than anything else that we built in this company. Did I give you enough nitty gritty details? Is that good enough?

Stephanie:

Yeah, I was hoping for a little more drama, but I’ll take it. That was good.

Randy:

There was plenty of drama. We can talk about that offline. Yeah.

Stephanie:

That sounds good. Earlier, I mentioned, I also wanted to hit on your marketing a little bit. What kind of channels do you focus on? What are you seeing success in right now in any new channels that you’re excited about?

Randy:

Yeah, for us, listen, we’re a direct to consumer company that started in 2013. Can you guess what our number one marketing channel is?

Stephanie:

Facebook?

Randy:

Bingo. Right. Okay. I think we still see a lot of success there, and while it might’ve been a way larger percentage of our marketing mix in the early days, and we’ve diversified away from that a fair amount, it’s still an important driver for us. In the beginning, in the early days, we would create a video that we didn’t even intend to be an ad, just a thank you to our customers, and then eventually it gets turned into an ad on Facebook that’s seen a hundred million times. Leaning into the trends and trying to see around the corner at Facebook. now working closely with that team. has really helped grow our business.

Randy:

One of the things that we have had since the beginning is ROI positive or breakeven on first purchase. We’re not over our skis on Facebook spend, while lot of companies are to just to try and build up their customer base. For us, it was important to really be disciplined. We knew that if we were going to grow our budget and grow our company, and we were a really marketing led company, we’d have to diversify away. So, Hello Podcasts, radio, direct mail, TV. Those are all big parts of the business now, and they’re all growing probably at a faster rate as a percentage at least of the business than our online ads on Facebook. But search has grown for us tremendously in the last year and a half as our brand has grown and recognition has grown.

Randy:

Some of that comes from broader marketing, like on TV, and then people are searching Bombas by name, and we can lean into search advertising and that works better. Some of these things are just about timing. Yeah, we still have a tremendous success sort of trialing things out online. We’ve never used a creative agency. Everything is internal at Bombas, so all of our creative direction and the marketing team and the partnership between the creative team and the brand teams and the marketing team operates as an internal agency. We like places where we can test things, test creative, test lines, test different cuts of videos, see what works, preview it, and then build it out into bigger campaigns that could work across all those different places that we talked about earlier that I mentioned.

Randy:

I don’t know, that’s sort of more of an overview than what’s working now. But if I think about the last few months, when everyone’s at home with COVID, people who were still able to afford to be buying things right now online are looking for comfort, and socks have done well in this moment. On the other side of things, we talk a lot about our efforts in the community and how we’ve adopted and been able to help out in this moment above and beyond how we normally do. That’s also something that people want to hear about. For us, it’s the combination of the product and the storytelling and the marketing mix, and making sure that we’re nimble enough in all three of those places to make adjustments as we build and grow.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome. Do you find that you have a community also, because it seems like with your story and your brand, you would have this community of people who want to lift you up and talk about you and spread the word organically without you really having to push too hard?

Randy:

Yeah, absolutely. Community is a big word at Bombas. Something that has been since the beginning. I think about the community of giving partners that we have. In the beginning, when we wanted to donate the socks, you buy a pair and we donate a pair on your behalf. We didn’t know how to do that. We started with one giving partner that would accept socks from us, and we learned a lot from them. Then we built a specific sock that we donate, that’s more tailored to the needs of the homeless community. Since then, now we have 3,500 giving partners across all 50 States. These are the people who are working really hard on the front lines helping out that community and doing what they can to serve their communities, and our job is to support them.

Randy:

That is a big community. We get a lot of feedback from them. Then you have our customers who really care tremendously about the product and the donation aspect of it, and they’re telling our story on their behalf. You mentioned earlier about one of the keys, I think for us is consistency. The more you’re telling the same story in different nuanced ways, the easier you make it for other people to tell your story on your behalf, and that word of mouth marketing, or letting people explain to somebody else when they’re having dinner that, hey, they just got these socks and they’re really excited about them.

Randy:

They donate for every pair they sell, and they also just happen to change the way they feel about putting on a pair of socks in the morning, and they feel more supported and comfortable in their daily life. That’s a pretty amazing thing that you can get somebody talking about socks at dinner. I think all of this stuff is related, making sure the messaging is tight, keeping that internal, having a marketing team that’s nimble and always trying new to new and different areas, and then having that product that’s really high quality to support all of that, to give you the confidence to go out and sell something.

Stephanie:

That’s great. How do you keep things organized? Because I’m thinking about, you have all these community organizations that you’re mentioning to do the one to one program, then you’ve got your own product that you need to focus on. How do you make sure that you’re spending the right amount of time with each area?

Randy:

You don’t want to be playing whack-a-mole, I guess. You want to be seeing ahead of things a little bit. There’s a certain element of making sure … You start to see when some friction comes into a certain side of the business and you need to spend a little bit more effort getting your go-to-market process ironed out, or on the technology side, if we don’t install an ERP process in the next X amount of time, we could see a lot of trouble. I think that starts with a leadership team that communicates really effectively, often open, and is really humble, and then syncing up on our company roadmap, and making sure that when something does seem like it needs a little bit more attention, that people spend their time on it.

Randy:

That’s the idea. I guess some of that is also thinking about, and talking to companies that are a year or two ahead of us, and have been through some of these sort of growing pains at the same times, and looking for the pitfalls that they went through and trying to get ahead of it rather than to have to be reactionary.

Stephanie:

The D2C community, it seems like they’re very helpful with each other, and you just mentioned, looking to someone who’s maybe two to three years ahead of you, how have you utilized that community and leaned into it to get advice or build friendships or mentorship?

Randy:

Yeah, it’s a great community. For us, we’re a pretty open group. We talked about transparency and communication as pillars of Bombas from the beginning. We want to help out other companies who are coming up behind us, and then we’ve looked to other direct to consumer companies, and other, generally, just good companies to try and help us out. You ask the question and you find that people are generally willing to say like, yeah, this is how we did this, or connect with this person on our team. They know that at some point they’ll have a question for you. We’ve always been just asking questions outside of the organization. It’s the same approach with hiring. We want to bring in people who are smarter than we are.

Randy:

We want to ask the questions to the companies who are ahead of us. You don’t get the answer if you don’t ask the question. It’s just an important thing, and I’m not sure why this group of companies especially is more open or collaborative, seeming than other groups that you’ve been in, but maybe it’s this generation of founders and the way that we grew up and the interest in community, and the expectation from customers that our company just can’t look the way it used to look or act the way it used to act, and it has to have more of a purpose. Maybe that just drives us all to be a little bit more open and a little bit more flexible and a little bit less guarded about some of the things that we’re doing.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I agree. It also just seems like there’s so many opportunities. It’s not like you’re going to be talking to someone who’s doing exactly what you’re doing. There’s just so many opportunities and so many things to start and try that I’m sure that also helps with people wanting to share and show how they did things.

Randy:

Yeah. I don’t really feel competitive with anyone in that space. In some ways, those companies, you could see them as more of our competition than another sock company, because we’re competing for the attention of people online. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. If somebody else is taking away time that somebody might spend thinking about Bombas, then I guess that’s competition, but approaching it, from a lens of collaboration and like, if they can help us know we can help somebody else, it’s just the way we’ve done it. I’m not sure it’s right, or it does feel like it’s helped us. It is nice to feel like there is a community around this. I like to think about these companies, I like the community of the businesses.

Randy:

I’d rather be lumped in with these companies, as a community of people that can help each other with the business side of things, than on the brand side of things. I’m wary of being one of the direct to consumer brands out there, because I don’t feel like that set of companies always looks the best or the type of press that is out there is always positive. For me, it’s just about the people running it and the people at these companies, and making sure that people in our teams are connecting to people who’ve done something that they maybe don’t know how to do perfectly.

Stephanie:

All right. Before we jump into a few higher level Ecommerce themes, I wanted to hear what is the best day in the office look like for you?

Randy:

Oh, the office.

Stephanie:

How do you walk home when you’re like snapped in and you’re like, that was a good day.

Randy:

Remind me of what an office is.

Stephanie:

Okay. What’s the best day from your bedroom look like?

Randy:

Well, okay. It is interesting to think about at home versus at the office. The office is a big part of who we were as a company and getting everybody together and that spirit of community that comes into it, and being able to sit down with someone face to face. We do miss that. Although the teams are really productive and risen to the challenge of working remotely. The best day feels like when something goes well beyond what you expected and teams are celebrating each other and recognizing each other. Also, when we have a speaker from one of our giving partners to give us perspective on what’s happening in our work life and why maybe it’s not the most important thing in our life and in our world.

Randy:

When all of those things are kind of clicking together, I think people remember why they work at this company, what’s truly important, how they can impact it, and then the collaboration and the spirit that comes along with it. Those are the best days for me, when you’re reminded of what’s important and how that impacts the company.

Stephanie:

I think it’s good to document those days too. I really like, there’s a coffee shop, Philz, right up the street, and they have all these pictures of their employees and just having fun and team meetings they have. It’s on the way when you’re headed to the bathroom, but it’s really fun. I would think as an employee, but also as a customer to see and remember like what it felt like that day and how excited this person looks when they’re receiving this award. Because it seems like it could be easy to forget when something’s moving so quick.

Randy:

Totally. I love that idea. I also think about the times when we all got to volunteer together. Now we tend to volunteer in smaller groups which is obviously still great. We have sign up sheets for all of our volunteer opportunities and you have to pounce on them to get the spots that you want. I think that speaks a lot about the culture of the company, but some of the photos you look back on from those moments, or those days when the team feels really connected, those are really exciting days.

Stephanie:

Yep. All right. A higher level Ecommerce question. What do you think the future of online shopping looks like, like in 2025?

Randy:

Ah, like when we’re all driving around in flying cars, what does Ecommerce look like?

Stephanie:

Yup. I’m on Mars. Where are you?

Randy:

I might be on Mars too. Do you want to have a rival colony? I’m down or maybe we have a collaborative colony.

Stephanie:

Okay. Oh, I’m down. Maybe, we’ll see.

Randy:

We’ll see. Okay. All right. We’ll see. We’ll figure it out then.

Stephanie:

It depends if you accept my LinkedIn request, I guess, then I’ll know. I’ll be like, is it any cooler now?

Randy:

Wait, that’s how we judge if you’re cool, is if you accept our LinkedIn request?

Stephanie:

I just made it up, but we’ll see. I might have higher criteria afterwards.

Randy:

Okay. All right. We’ll put a pin in that. I don’t know what the future of Ecommerce looks like, I got to tell you, I know the percentage of people who get comfortable shopping online, that’s only going to go up. I know that companies are going to invent new ways to make it easier for people to buy their product, to review their product, to look at it. I think ease is the name of the game. In a world that’s going to be more and more competitive, the way to stand out is going to change. All I know is it’s not going to look like it looks right now, and having the attitude that, even if you’re doing something right, that the way to succeed in a few years, it’s going to be a different version of right, then you’ll be okay.

Stephanie:

Yep. I love that. All right. Before I move into the lightning round, anything that you wanted to share that we missed, where you’re like, I really wish you asked this, Stephanie, and you just didn’t?

Randy:

No, like I said, I’m here for you guys. You want to talk about Mars and infrastructure, then great. Whatever you want to talk about.

Stephanie:

Mars and the moon, that’ll be the next podcast. Anyone who wants to sponsor it, hit us up. I don’t know what we’re going to talk about, but we’re going to need help to figure it out. All right. Lightning round brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I ask you a question and you have a minute or less to answer, Randy. Are you ready?

Randy:

I’m ready.

Stephanie:

All right. What’s up next on your reading list?

Randy:

Can we just start that over? Sorry.

Stephanie:

Yep. What’s next on your reading list?

Randy:

Up next on my reading list is the Mike Nichols book. I’m not sure what it’s called, but I’m excited to read it.

Stephanie:

What’s it about?

Randy:

Its about the director, Mike Nichols, and his life.

Stephanie:

Cool. We’ll have our producer, Hillary, will find the link to that and everyone can go explore it there.

Randy:

I don’t tend to read business books. I know that they could be helpful, but I’m more interested in people, humanity, fiction, novels.

Stephanie:

Yep. Cool. Any podcasts you listen to?

Randy:

Yeah. There’s a great podcast I listened to about words called The Allusionist, Allusionist with an A. Love that podcast. I have a whole list, but let’s just do one.

Stephanie:

Yeah. We’ll check that out. Any hobbies that you’re really getting into these days?

Randy:

Hobbies that I’m really getting into. I really like this sport called paddle tennis. It’s not pickleball, it’s not ping pong. It’s called paddle tennis. If you look it up, it’s like a fast version of tennis. You play with a paddle and a tennis ball, but you poke a hole in it. There’s like a really small, but passionate community around the sport. It’s really fun.

Stephanie:

Do you play on a tennis court?

Randy:

You play on a small tennis court. It’s basically the service boxes and two-ish foot baseline, and a net. You serve under hand, and you can’t serve [inaudible 00:52:55], and you poke a hole on the tennis ball so it doesn’t fly everywhere, but it still bounces. It acts and feels like tennis, but like a faster version. It’s really cool. You can play in New York. There’s courts in New York in StuyTown and Peter Cooper Village, and there’s courts in Venice Beach in California. Those are kind of the two centers in the US. It’s not a very big popular sport.

Stephanie:

We will have to bring it up to Palo Alto. I will be the one do that. That would be my initiative over the next year.

Randy:

Do it.

Stephanie:

All right. If you were to have a podcast, what would it be about, and who would your first guest be?

Randy:

Oh man. If I was going to have a podcast, wow, I don’t know. Do we need another podcast? Do we need a podcast from me?

Stephanie:

Yes, we do.

Randy:

Maybe it would just be rants. Just do like a short rant every week. I don’t know.

Stephanie:

I like that. Hey, that seem to do well sometimes.

Stephanie:

That’s okay. All right, this one’s slightly harder so you might have to think. What one thing will have the biggest impact on Ecommerce in the next year?

Randy:

I think the thing that will have the biggest impact on Ecommerce in the next year is the timing on reopening the economy and stores and retail. If people can’t go to stores or don’t feel comfortable going to stores, they’re going to, inevitably, accelerate their comfort level with shopping online. We already see that happening. I think it’s just going to push that trend line even further forward. I’m for one, excited about it. I think the biggest, biggest test for this will be this Q4 and the holiday season, and to see what percentage of shoppers are shopping on Ecommerce and what they’re demanding of Ecommerce retailers that they weren’t a year ago when the percentages were smaller.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I completely agree. Great answer. Randy, it’s been a blast having you on the show. Where can people find out about you and Bombas?

Randy:

You can find out about Bombas at bombas.com, and everywhere else you would expect, B-O-M-B-A-S. That’s it. Thank you for listening and thanks for having me.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Thanks so much. It’s been fun. See you next time.

Randy:

All right. See you next time.

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