Missions and Marketplace Podcast
Interview with Eric Bandholz
Hello everyone I’m Priest Willis and this is Missions and Marketplace podcast episode number 36. Today I’m joined by Eric Bandholz. Eric couldn’t grow facial hair at his corporate job so he did the next logical step. He quit and built a business around his beard. Eric is a husband, father, entrepreneur, YouTuber, world traveler and designer and founder of BeardBrand. Eric is what he calls the “urban beardsman”. His vision is fostering a community for the bearded lifestyle that gives men the tools to wear a beard in any environment. Since launching an e-commerce site in January of 2013, BeardBrand has grown from zero to over a hundred and twenty thousand dollars per month built primarily on branding with YouTube, Instagram and another sites. Eric has appeared on national television show Shark Tank, he’s been viewed four million times on YouTube, featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Insider, Fast Company, Forbes and more. An entrepreneurial individual for ten years in marketing sales and design, Eric is building lasting business relationships that result in fruitful partnerships which has been the key to their success. I think you’re really going to get something from Eric in terms of how to build your business, how to leverage things like YouTube, Instagram and others, and the steps you should take to be successful in growing your brand. You have to push the naysayers aside. Check out what Eric has to tell you. Without further ado, here is my man Eric Bandholz.
Welcome to Missions and Marketplace podcast. Join us as we talk to business and thought leaders to discuss their passion in and outside of business and how it drives them to give and be citizens of goodwill. Let’s get started.
PW: Eric, welcome to the program.
EB: Hey Priest, how’s it going man?
PW: It’s going really well. I appreciate you joining me. This is exciting.
EB: Yeah, the pleasure is all mine. I’m excited to chat with you. It’s going to be a fun show.
PW: Yeah, yeah. A lot of beard talk here; business talk and beard talk and other stuff so this is good. So, Eric why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about yourself?
EB: Man, I could ramble on about myself for quite some time. But I’ll give you the brief rundown of my career. I had an initial start in sales that ultimately led me to this job as a financial advisor working at a big bank in the corporate lifestyle. I was forced to conform to the normative look; like the all-American boy which of course contains no beard. And it really just felt like I was being someone who I wasn’t, I wasn’t being authentic. So, I quit working there and decided to regrow my beard out for as long as I could. During that journey, I kind of fell in love with my beard, fell in love with growing a beard and fell in love with the community of beardsmen out there. That’s the time there was a lot of negative stereotypes around dudes and beards and I didn’t think that’s right. I never identified as a biker or a hippie or a lumberjack or anything like that. I always considered myself a business person and I met this community of people who were like me and that’s when I came up with this idea for Urban Beardsman which is who I am; kind of my own label and then BeardBrand as a way to unite Urban Beardsman. And ever since then we’ve just been focusing on changing the way society sees beardsmen and making some kickass products and spreading the word.
PW: That’s really cool. So, let’s take a step back because I do want to get into who you are as an individual because you are more than just a beard and more than just the products and what you sell on the site. You really have an interesting story here so I definitely want to dive into it. But just going back to when you were a financial advisor, did you quit solely for the purpose of “because I want to grow this beard” or was it just that “hey Priest I was wearing a mask day in and day out, I wasn’t myself both with the beard and just who I wanted to be at every level”. Was that ultimately why you quit? Because you wanted to be an entrepreneur and all these other pieces?
EB: Yeah, it definitely wasn’t like “hey I can’t grow a beard here” and then like “screw you guys I’m out of here”. [Laughs]
EB: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and when I actually left that job it was to start up a marketing company or graphic design company and it’s ultimately what I ended up becoming. So, I did start my first, I want to say my first business, but another one of my businesses that wasn’t successful. So, you can’t take that entrepreneurial drive out of people sometimes.
PW: That’s very true especially when you’re born with this gift to be able to do it and I think you have been – the proof is in the pudding. One of the things that I read on your Twitter, in your bio that it says verbatim, is that you’re a husband, father, entrepreneur, YouTuber, world traveler, designer and founder of BeardBrand of course. In a lot of times when you read people’s bio they put a lot of stuff in there and they’re only half that; the other half is sort of what they want to be. But I think in every aspect when I read the story about you going on Shark Tank and you and your wife trying to have a child; when I read that title within the Twitter bio about you being a father, that has to be even more special to you. By you being able to say that after you and your wife tried to have a child after so many times which is one of the most, I think you’ve said it in a couple past interviews, it was one of the most trying times that you probably had in your life, is that fair?
EB: Yeah. I don’t wish infertility issues upon my worst enemy. It was definitely just a dark period in my life and it wasn’t like a month or two months, it was a good five years long. So yeah, it’s definitely a trying experience to try to have a child; you’re having those challenges but we persevered and we’ve got a little one with us. She’s now three and she’s a darling. I love her to death.
PW: That’s so awesome. How do you balance, Eric, being a husband, a father, an entrepreneur, and in all these other things that you are? How do you really find the time to really dig into yourself and discover who you are if that makes sense?
EB: Really importantly. Being quite honest, as an entrepreneur you can’t turn it off. Your mind is always thinking about your business; whether you’re at work or in the office, your mind is about how to build the business. To a certain degree you start feeling guilty because you do want to spend your time and energy and thoughts and brain power with your wife and your children and your friends and family. But it is hard, it is a balance. I’ve gotten better as we progressed in the business. I wish I could say I built this totally automated business like Tim Ferriss does where you could just sit around on the beaches all day long and make money but I haven’t quite figured that one out. I still am grinding and hustling and trying to do everything. Of course, I’m not perfect with my entrepreneurial and in my business management skills and I’m just trying to get better every day so that maybe one day I will be able to relax and get my mind out of the business for a couple hours.
PW: Yeah well, I think that’s what’s cool about you just from the things that I followed and listen to is you really have a genuine entrepreneurial story. You don’t have a system and you’re not perfect but you’ve built a great business, you’ve built great content and other things around it which I think is really cool. How did you come up with the idea or even what steps did you take to get on Shark Tank because that was the first, if I remember correctly, you either said somewhere or it was written somewhere that you had minimal investment so I imagine there was an idea for you to get on Shark Tank to be almost like the catalyst for you launching this thing out? What was the idea around it? What kind of steps did you take to get there?
EB: Going back to the early stages of BeardBrand and we’re building; today as a talk about, it was just a completely different market. But back then we were laughed at all the time when we talked about how we sold beard grooming products and beard oils and mustache waxes and no one took it serious that we could even have a reasonable business.
PW: Why do you think that is? Why do you think people laughed at that knowing that that was needed? Is it just that men grooming was just kind of like “we don’t groom, we just work”? What do you think happened?
EB: Well, I don’t really know. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that men got more comfortable with growing their beards out longer. And then as the beards get longer, it of course needs a little bit more help and of course products to tame the beard and take care of the beard and help us feel nice. So, I do think there is this movement probably in the early 2011, 2012 where a lot of guys really started growing some long beards. I would say we’re probably the first company to really take advantage of that movement. So much of BeardBrand was like an extension or is an extension of myself and what I went through as a guy and what I went through as I was growing my beard out and being able to offer products that I just authentically knew that this product is great. It makes my beard feel fantastic and I literally cannot imagine going on my day without putting some product in. And then there will be a day where I forget it and it’s like “why does my beard feel so terrible?” [Laughs]
EB: So, you kind of tie together great products and a great story and a great mission and people are charmed to that. Going back to Shark Tank, I do think what we’re doing was really unique and I think it was a story that the world needed to hear and Shark Tank is a wonderful platform to not only be able to tell your story and show what you’re doing to a national audience but also with some luck be able to connect to some incredible business people who you could learn from and grow from and leverage their network and leverage their capital. So, it’s almost a no-brainer when you’ve got a product and a company that’s like nothing else out there.
PW: Were you able to do that? When you went on Shark Tank were you able to, even behind the scenes, leverage them beyond anything contractual?
EB: Yeah, they’re such busy people I think. I sent them all a thank you and I got a response from Mark Cuban and that one email response is about the highlight of my interactions after the show. So, I hadn’t been able to take advantage of their network in any way but I do think there still is, you know you get the reruns and there’s some familiarity with the brand and what we’re doing just from being on that show.
PW: So, Eric let’s take a step back and then bring it to where it’s at today. So, when you initially started off it’s my understanding that you started off more as a curator of information for those growing beards and doing grooming and it’s obviously turned into a place now where you can buy products. But let’s talk about the beginning to today. Is that how you started? Just kind of a content portal and now you’re more of an e-tailer? Or how was that growth progress?
PW: It’s what I do. It’s what I do. [Laughs]
EB: So we started – the first three properties for BeardBrand were a blog, a Tumblr page and our YouTube channel. It was all launched in February of 2012. I just really wrote and frequently posted on Instagram pretty regularly – not Instagram, on Tumblr pretty regularly. And then the YouTube channel I probably only did like six videos or ten videos that first year. So, it wasn’t this heavy-handed building-this-empire type of blog. I think I have 300 subscribers on my YouTube channel and a couple of hundred views. But because I was literally the only person talking about beard care at that time, we were lucky enough to get contacted by a reporter from The New York Times who was doing an article on beards and quoted me in the article, quoted BeardBrand in the article. And right before that article went live, we’re like “oh man, let’s start off a store, find some products to put out there”. And we scrambled and over the course of two days, we got this store built and we have three products on there, just got a couple orders in but it’s enough. Those first orders that came in it was just like a drug and it just keeps you motivated and keeps you going. And we just built off of that, month over month, just always trying to improve and get better.
PW: So, is the ultimate goal Erik for you to be acquired? Or do you plan on just evolving as a business, adding more products and doing different things from a man’s grooming standpoint? Or where do you ultimately want to go?
EB: I’m a bit of a control freak and my business partners I think were both control freaks so we’ve got a pretty simple business model. And my two co-founders, we don’t have any investors, we don’t have any debt or loans and that really allows us to have the freedom to make our own decisions that we think are going to be ultimately best for our customers in the long run. We’re taking a long run plan with our business model so that means we’ve got to grow profitably and invest wisely.
EB: And the goal is ultimately to have such a well-run machine that we don’t have to be in the day-to-day and it’s a profitable business. And then if someone wants to buy it, they could buy it but the goal is not to build this company to sell. So, we’re not out there rubbing shoulders with investors or VC firms or jump firms that kind of take you through the A-rounds or B-rounds and then ultimately IPO exit through a sale. So, that’s definitely not a strategy at all.
PW: You know one of the things I told you before our conversation here was that, first of all just for full transparency, I’m growing a beard – I have been since August. Last year I grew one. It grew like S.O.S. pads because I didn’t put anything on it, I wasn’t manicuring it in any way. And so, I just decided this year because I’ve seen out in the realm where people took care of their beards a lot better and I thought well there has to be beards and oils and creams and other stuff out there but I didn’t even know where to begin. So, I started doing some searches on Google, found BeardBrand but then ultimately started running into some of your other content-based sites and other sites that you have. One of the things I wanted to talk about that I thought was really strong that you’re doing out there is you’re essentially what I consider to be an authority in the beard business. And again, that’s based on the great content that you put out there including videos. Let’s talk about not only building the authority within the beard business but building the authority within your niche or business in general. Did you have any plan to do that? Meaning, did you white board something out or did you just clumsily go through the process along the way? Like throw up a couple videos as you mentioned and created some blogs and it morphed into this or what was the strategy behind it?
EB: I think the proper answer would be a little of both. Since day one we’ve always had this vision of uniting the community of Urban Beardsman and changing the way society views guys with beards. That’s always been our core vision of what we wanted to do. That’s never been wavering or changing. But how we do that has changed. When I originally had the vision for BeardBrand it wasn’t actually a grooming company, it was a lifestyle company – it was like apparel, it was shoes, belts, wallets, those types of items. And what I found is that our audience and our customers really respond to the grooming products. So, we’re like “well, let’s not waste our time making ten bucks on these shirts” when we can be making a lot more on the grooming products and then use those profits to help get a larger voice and speak about the challenges that guys have when growing their beards out and really how to help them feel confident about rocking their beards and help them feel confident taking care of their beards.
PW: Yeah, it’s really cool. You must be doing something right because it looks like 50% of your visitors, at least to the website, are US -based, the other one is UK and then from there you have Canada and other places. So, word is travelling about what you’re offering and it sounds like a growing trend among men is to be better groomed. And there’s not much we can do as men, right. We can either change our face and change our belt and a watch but that’s pretty much all we got so we might as well do it to the best of our ability.
EB: Yeah and the other great thing about beards is like when we start to lose it up top…
EB: [Laughs] then you just start to grow out the beard.
PW: [Laughs] That’s true.
EB: I mean it’s something like 70% of guys are going to deal with thinning hair or lose their hair so the beard has definitely – it’s your new head hair. And you want to be able to figure out what your beard style is and how to rock it, how to take care of it and it totally makes sense.
PW: What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about guys having beards? Because I’m in a corporate environment and people are just starting, I hate to use titles and stuff like that, but with this new millennial age I’m starting to see a lot more men be comfortable with growing our beards in corporate settings. But before that, and I’m a Gen X-er, why do you think we struggled with the idea of having this beard in a professional atmosphere. Did we look like the bad guy or were we dirty and we could use some change? What happened?
EB: I’ve thought about a lot of this over the time and this is just a theory so it’s not totally backed up in science or anything like that, but in the mid-1800s we had a really high percentage of guys wearing facial hair I think. I ran across a study that as many as 90% of men were wearing some type of facial hair in the 1890s. And that could be side burns, moustache, beard, goatee, whatever it is. And then what happened is this small company called Gillette figured out how to do marketing really, really well. And around that time was also the term of “clean-shaven”. So, clean-shaven isn’t a word that always existed. It’s something that’s probably been prettily linked to the razor industry. So, there’s been a lot of marketing, a lot of I want to say propaganda but it’s just marketing and informing people that “hey, if you want to look clean you can’t have any kind of facial hair”. And then that’s been tied in with modern warfare which requires dust mask to have a strong seal and then of course having a complete shaved hair is going to help with that. And then just tied in with corporate America like IBM and Big Blue and their dress code requirements and their professional requirements for how you groom yourself. And what happened is the internet has broken all of that. The internet has been the great equalizer and it’s allowed guys to now find other guys like them, connect with them on a global level to feel part of that community. And then also guys are working from home or their stay-at-home dads so they’ve got less people telling them what to do or have that control over their lives. So, they’re like “I’ve got control, I’m going to do what I want to do”. And if guys are given the choice if they can grow a beard or not grow a beard, a lot of them are going to choose to do that because it is great having a beard. It’s great not having to shave every day and it’s great being able to just stroke your beard when you’re in thought.
EB: Having a beard is a great thing.
PW: Yeah, I like stroking my beard. I feel like a boss when I sit around and just ponder on life. You know what, people say I look like DJ Khaled now that I’ve grown my beard out a little bit. That’s a scary thought, sort of. But it is kind of cool having a beard I must say.
EB: You know the guy, on average, will stroke his beard or touch his beard 720 times a day.
EB: Yeah. [Laughs]
PW: [Laughs] Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe I do. Maybe I do. You know I grab it a lot more specially towards the goatee part of it, I’m always pulling at the chin part. It’s interesting that you bring that up. I’m going to have like a counter on my FitBit of beard pulling or something like that. I don’t know. I heard you say somewhere Eric that it was less about the products, I think, and it’s more about men finding their voice and just discovering who they are, something along those lines. What did you mean by that? What does that mean like it’s less about the products and more about the identity of the man? Or is that where the Urban Beardsman, your words at least, is that where that comes from just finding your voice within who you are; beard, no beard, suit, no suit, is that what you’re saying with that?
EB: Yeah, I think a lot of it can be tied to my own personal insecurities and my own personal pressures of having to look a certain way or having to feel like I need to look some way. And it may all be in the head, right.
EB: And wanting to branch out and just be myself, right. I just want to portray myself as I view how I want to be to the world without the pressures from my boss being like “oh man, you got to dress like this” or “oh man, that’s not appropriate”. I just want to be me. And I feel like there’s a lot of other guys out there who feel these pressures. I remember back in college, the first thing they told me if I wanted to get a job was I had to shave my beard of. I mean it always went back to that every time I’m out there interviewing for jobs to shave my beard off. And if I shave my beard off and I consider myself as a guy who normally wears a beard and all the sudden I’m portraying myself as someone who I’m not. So, that’s really like the struggles and I want to help guys become themselves. And you’re right, it doesn’t matter if it’s beard or no beard, it doesn’t matter if it’s formal or informal. It’s just what do you want to be and how can we do that. There have been pressures to shave off beards in the past but how can we do this in a way where we don’t pressure you to grow a beard. Because if you’re doing that, you’re doing the exact same thing. So, it’s all about supporting a man’s right to be himself, whatever that is.
PW: That’s really cool. I love the fact that you’re so in touch with how men think– whether it’s the products that they put in. And speaking of the products, are these organic products? What are they based in?
EB: Our product detail is to develop products that work with your body’s natural chemistry. So, we don’t want to disguise or mask anything that’s going on so we use natural ingredients. We lean heavily towards natural ingredients that will ultimately deliver the best outcome of bringing the person back to their natural health.
PW: I just love your perspective on how you’re reaching out to the men and identifying whether it’s the insecurities or just us trying to find our voice. That’s why I think that the products speak more than just the ingredient themselves but it speaks to the voice of the creators, you and your co-founders, and stuff like that. One thing I want to bring up to that point was, I was on your Instagram page and I looked at a recent post that you had put up talking about this afternoon you sent out an email to subscribers who haven’t engaged with the BeardBrand in a long time and you showed a screenshot of people that responded back. And this was another thing that I found really interesting about you as an entrepreneur is that to me you really have a grassroots approach to how you’re building your business. The YouTube piece was one side of it but you’re also very transparent in terms of “hey I’ve reached out to guys that haven’t been engaged, here’s responses that I’ve gotten back”. What does it really mean to you to build an online business beyond just the financial side of it but really connecting with your customer base?
EB: It’s easy because I love the brand, I love talking with the community, I love talking with our customers. I love making them happy and helping make sure that they’re passionate about what we’re doing because I’m passionate about what we’re doing. And to a certain degree, probably the past year, year and a half, we’ve tried to grow up and of course that’s not scalable, right? I can’t answer every single email as we continue to grow but I need to do it occasionally because it does energize me and it does help me feel connected to the people we are working for. The thing is I take a little bit after my mother – she talks before she thinks. And sometimes I just do things without thinking about it.
EB: It’s just like “this is the emotions I had, this is what I’m doing”. I’m sure there’s been all sorts of things that I’ve said in public that I should’ve just kept as trade secrets and what not. But it’s just that like what we’re doing and I want to talk about it. I want to share it and I assume no one’s interested in it, no one wants to read it but I like sharing it. I get off on just telling the world what we’re doing.
PW: So, I’m an entrepreneur and I’m selling a widget and I don’t have that natural gift of connecting with people whether they want it or not. Again, you have a great YouTube audience, you have an Instagram audience that you are instantly talking to, no pun intended. How can I build that? I’m not like you. I’m not necessarily willing to throw everything out there but I do want to build this online business. What would be the first one or two things that you would tell me to help me build my business online?
EB: The beauty of business is there is no one road. You can do it in a lot of different ways and while I’m good at connecting with people, telling our story and having a brand vision, I really suck at the analytical stuff.
EB: I suck at it – like PPC and AdWords and landing pages and just do online hacks that can also be very profitable for our company. So, it all comes out to find what you love, find what really keeps you energized because business is a grind. And if you find that if I’m a nonanalytical guy and I’m doing analytical stuff all day long, I’m going to hate the business. I’m going to hate coming to work and the business is ultimately going to fail. So, you as individual, what do you love doing? Do you love just talking to individuals? Do you love doing trade shows? Do you love doing events? Do you love getting into the analytics and not be the people person and just like “hey how do I tweak this tagline versus this tagline and A/B testing?” There’s so many things within the business that you can find passion in that thing. You can start to use that as your core aspect of building your business.
PW: That’s really good. You know sometimes knowing who you’re not helps you to know who you are and just finding your voice and that is absolutely key. I mentioned earlier when we first started the interview here that you’re a world traveler. How much of you doing travelling has given you a perspective about business and how to work with people? And the second part to that question is, where are some of the best places that you’ve been?
EB: The business perspective is really interesting. When I started traveling for business I’ve started to see how other cultures work and I have a tendency to look to America and how we do things but when I get out there I realize that Americans are really, really good at work. We are really good at figuring out things and not being ok with the things that aren’t working. I think it’s true that Americans have the best, it’s not just work ethic but it’s just the way they think about work and the way they solve problems. I don’t think they could be matched by any other country that I’ve been to. And there’s some great cultures out there and of course they value things differently too – they value their home time, their free time and whatever may be in technology. But when it comes to my favorite places, I was really excited I was able to take my wife and my daughter to Amsterdam and that was my daughter’s first big international trip. It was a really awesome experience for me to be able to bring such a young girl to a completely foreign place and start to show her what the world is like beyond our friendly confines.
EB: So, I’ve more places to that. Tokyo. Tokyo just blows my mind. That city is amazing.
PW: Why is it? Is it just a lot more progressive than a lot of people might think? Or what’s the real cool part about Tokyo.
EB: For me Tokyo is just so different than America. With all the lights and just how many people are there and just how condensed it is and how organized and clean; it’s a great place. My third place is probably Valparaíso in Chile.
EB: I think the cool thing about the city is it used to be a very profitable and wealthy city and then the Panama Canal was built and it got rundown. So, there’s all these graffiti and dilapidated buildings but it also feels very safe and is on the ocean and there’s just so much character in that city. I would love to be able to live there for a few years of my life at some point.
PW: Wow, that’s really cool. You’ve been gracious with your time which I really appreciate. You have such a great brand in the business that you’re building. Again, from a personal standpoint and just a man obviously, I’m really impressed by what I see that you’re building and you are definitely tapping into a customer that I think has been quieted at it for a long time. And maybe not quieted necessarily but just passed over for whatever reason. And I think you absolutely deserve all the success that you’re getting and I wish you much more.
EB: Well thank you for that. It’s a very kind thing I appreciate that a lot.
PW: Absolutely. How can people reach out to you? How can they find you?
EB: You know I’m the only Eric Bandholz out there so if you Google Eric Bandholz, you’re going to find me. Twitter is probably my favorite for responding to messages. Of course, I’m on Instagram, ericbandholz. That’s a good way to just see the things that I’m buried or for whatever reason you like looking at selfies of me, I tend to post out there. And then of course BeardBrand is my company and BeardBrand has a whole bunch of videos and links from it as well.
PW: That’s awesome. Thank you for your time Eric, I really appreciate it.
EB: Thank you for having me.
PW: Thanks a lot.
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