This episode features guests Garret and Deeannee Akerson. Garret and Deeannee are the co-founders of Kindred Bravely. In 2019, Kindred Bravely was named #20 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest- growing, privately held US companies and they also won the Shopify Build a Bigger Business Competition in 2017 as one of the eight fastest-growing online retailers on Shopify’s platform
Touching on the importance of company culture and setting expectations, find out how they scaled their business with a remote workforce and their strategies for growing their business into a known brand using an almost entirely remote workforce.
Learn their methods to communicate with their team members, who are located across the globe and why communication is key.
Finally, discover their thoughts on selling products on Amazon vs. their own website through the stages of company growth, startup vs. established brand and general advice on growing your business.
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You can find more information regarding visit Kindred Bravely at www.kindredbravely.com.
ABOUT THE HOST:
Andy Splichal is the World's Foremost Expert on Ecommerce Growth Strategies. He is the acclaimed author of the Make Each Click Count Book Series, the Founder & Managing Partner of True Online Presence and the Founder of Make Each Click Count University. Andy was named to The Best of Los Angeles Award's Most Fascinating 100 List in both 2020 and 2021.
New episodes of the Make Each Click Count Podcast, are released each Friday and can be found on Apple Podcast, iHeart Radio, iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts and www.makeeachclickcount.com.
Andy Splichal 0:02
Welcome to the Make Each Click Count podcast. This is your host, Andy Splichal. We are happy to welcome this week's guest to discuss today's topic which is Growing Your Online Ecommerce Business with a Remote Workforce. Today's guests are the founders of Kindred Bravely. In 2009. Kindred Bravely was named number 20 on the Inc 5000 list of fastest growing privately held US companies. They also won the Shopify build a bigger business competition in 2017 as one of the eighth fastest growing online retailers on the Shopify platform. This married team of entrepreneurs is here to talk ecommerce. A big hello to Garret & Deeannee Akerson. Hi guys.
Garret Akerson 1:30
Deeannee Akerson 1:31
Andy Splichal 1:32
Hi. Well, let's start off our conversation. Talking about your company, Kindred Bravely. What do you sell? When do you start all that good stuff?
Deeannee Akerson 1:44
Well, Kindred Bravely was founded in 2015. And we make a full line of women's intimates for pregnancy postpartum and the nursing journey. So we specialize in bras, we have underwear and loungewear, pajamas, and all kinds of cozy things to keep our moms comfortable.
Andy Splichal 2:01
And in 2019, you were named number 20. On the Inc 5000 list of fastest growing privately held companies, that's really quick four years, but you know, going back before 2019, when was it that you really thought you were onto something?
Deeannee Akerson 2:21
It was probably in 2017 when we won the Shopify build a bigger business competition. And, you know, things really began to scale that year, definitely, to answer your question, definitely realized we were on to something. By the time that came, maybe even in late 2016. We've actually started with just one product, which was a pair of nursing pajamas, because that was what I needed as a breastfeeding mom. But as soon as we introduced bras, those really took off, because ask all the women in your lives, everyone is looking for a comfortable bra. And there's just more of those in demand. So I think once we began to interview, do some more full line of bras. I think that's when I had confidence that, you know, we were onto something.
Garret Akerson 3:13
Yeah, I think for me, I knew we would succeed all along. And I think for Deeanne, it probably took a little bit longer. And in particular, once we launched bras, I think we saw sales markedly increase. Pajamas at the time, we hadn't realized our little seasonal not entirely, but certainly there's a lot more pajama sales in q4 around the holidays. It's both winter and nice gifting items. So
Andy Splichal 3:41
Right. Yeah, that makes sense. Now I see back in 2018, you were doing 9.6 million in annual sales and your staff said with a remote team of work at home moms. So you guys had a remote workforce even before COVID.
Deeannee Akerson 3:56
Yeah, completely. It was sort of by design and also a bit by accident. But as we were looking for our first hire, we didn't have an office. And so we were looking for someone that was comfortable working from home. And we also didn't have a lot of work for that first employee. So I think she only worked maybe 12 or 15 hours a week. And so it was you know, we looked for a mom who wanted to work part time. She knew our customers, she knew how to talk to them about bra fit. And it was just it ended up being a really natural fit to hire other work from home moms who wanted to be part of what we were building. They were the perfect employees to talk to our customers.
Garret Akerson 4:43
Yeah, I think at the time in 2015 when we started, we certainly didn't want to go into an office and to DMS point we didn't have an office just starting out. It was very much the entire first year something we did in the evenings I was running another company, a digital Advertising, small boutique agency. And Deeanne was teaching math at the local high school. So as you know, when we started, it was just the two of us working in the evening. And then that second year 2016, when we hired our first team member, it just kind of naturally made sense to start hiring remote. And then we just put the we built from there.
Andy Splichal 5:24
Now, many entrepreneurs are a bit leery about going remote with their workforce, but they've kind of been forced into it now with COVID to, uh, to at least do it and how have you been able to build a reliable remote team?
Garret Akerson 5:41
I think a lot of that is company culture. Certainly. I'm sure Deeanne has some to add here too. But for me, I don't it was never a fear of like, oh, no, you know, is this employee getting their work done? Or are they on task or off task? I think for us, in early on, it was very much a setting a culture of when you're on your, we'd say when you're on, you're on, and when you're off, you're off. Very simple kind of phrase, but just really parenting and working at the same time, just rob you of the joys of parenting and then, and they rob you of, hopefully of the joys of working as well and feeling like you're contributing to a greater cause in a team. So I think we've been really clear on boundaries. And we're very outcome driven. So it's pretty apparent right away, like if a team member isn't pulling their weight. And Deeanne, do you have more to add to that?
Unknown Speaker 6:47
Yeah, I mean, everyone is, has a very specific job. So to Garret's point, you don't need to see them coming to work and occupying a desk to know if they're busy, you can come to work, be physically there and still not be an effective team member. But it's very easy to know when someone is is not completing their work because we specialize. And you know, we work by 90 day sprints and employees want to be successful and succeed. So when, whether or not they're doing it on a traditional like nine to five, or if they work when the kids are napping, and then again, you know, later at night, we don't really care when an employee is working, as long as the work is getting done.
Andy Splichal 7:36
Yeah. So very, very loose hours, but really goal oriented. It sounds like,
Garret Akerson 7:41
yeah, we say that you have to overlap at least four of your working hours with nine to five Pacific because we have team members now all across the US, Canada, Philippines, Ukraine, and Dubai. And so you do have to have at least an overlap. So we as a team can communicate. But Deeanne mentioned we in the early stages designed something called 90 day sprints. So we borrowed a little bit from agile, and from programming and kind of how to how to work how teams work in the agile framework, but then kind of spread it out. So we take 90 days, and then those get broken down into two, six week segments. And then each of those gets broken down into two week segments. And so it's really apparent like Okay, are you working towards your task? Are you getting it done, whatever that bigger project is, and then on the smaller day to day stuff. DM mentioned as well, everyone on our team from early on, we always hired specialists. So very few, certainly in the early days, generalists on our team. So for example, when we started hiring and building up the team for social media, we hired an Instagram manager, a Pinterest manager, a Facebook manager and an email marketing manager. It's very easy to see results if you have one person managing Instagram okay growing as a meeting the metrics you set, etc etc.
Andy Splichal 9:11
Now let's let's talk about that staff for for a second you said you guys hired specialists, what type of positions are remote in are there any positions that are in house?
Deeannee Akerson 9:22
We we have almost all positions remote, of course warehousing is in house and the design team that's actually touching the fabrics and trends and those types of things are at least half the time in person. So they do have to be San Diego county based. But other than that, all other positions, you know, customer care, marketing. You name it. Finance there, they're all remote.
Andy Splichal 9:53
Now have you guys found any challenges or struggles that you've had? over time with building that remote team,
Deeannee Akerson 10:03
I think communication is probably the biggest challenge to overcome. And I don't know if that goes away when you're in the office, we do have to be really intentional about our communication. Team members definitely have to be effective at written communication, because a lot of what gets communicated, does come through, you know, we have a lot of tools like Slack, Asana for project management. So if someone is is really not good with written communication, it would be hard to thrive but communication in general, and just making sure people feel connected, heard, is it's a challenge. But I think it's a challenge for any organization that is, is growing.
Andy Splichal 10:47
Now, how often do you check in with your employees? Is it like a daily meeting? Is it once a week out? How does that work?
Garret Akerson 10:57
Yeah, great question. So we have an all team meeting on Fridays. So everyone gets together on Fridays. And then on a team basis, now that we're so we're about 80 employees now. So once as we've scaled, it's very much kind of departmental or project based. So if you're in the marketing department, you're you're meeting once a week for the marketing department meeting. And then you would also be in the all team meeting, but then you might be in like a sub smaller group where you're working on, you know, email, or copy, or, or web. So those typically have standing meetings for that. So you probably have two to three set meetings a week that are, like, reoccurring. And then we do a lot of just, you know, let's hop on a quick Google Hangout, or let's hop on a Zoom meeting. As Deeanne mentioned, we use Slack. So I think part of supporting a remote workforce is getting your tech stack set up to enable that. And nowadays, it's so easy with Zoom, Google Hangouts, we use G Suite for everything. So being able to, you know, upload and share all our documents in Google Drive and collaborate on them. And then most of our communication is happening via slack. And it's, you know, it can be any time of the day and even sometimes in the evenings, you kind of learn like, who works late and who works early, you know, you can reach out on Slack. Someone say, Hey, do you have a minute to hang out? Or I was looking for, you know, this? Or how's this project going?
Andy Splichal 12:41
I like that term, you can reach out and slack somebody. Hey, I'm switching subjects for just a minute. I see you guys sell on products on your own website, and then on Amazon as well. What are your thoughts on doing that? Is there a strategy behind that selling on Amazon? As well as I mean, what what percentage of your sales comes from Amazon compared to your own site?
Garret Akerson 13:07
Yeah, so definitely, I would say a hot topic, whether or not to sell on Amazon, or not. And, you know, for us, so we, when we launched in 2015, we launched on Amazon and Shopify at the same time. And we did it for several reasons. One, we knew Amazon had the search volume and the demand. And I think anytime you're starting your if you're doing a startup in the DTC space today, it's, it's it's hard to get traction, unless you have like a really strong muscle, I think in one kind of marketing channel, like maybe you're really good at affiliate marketing or really good at influencers, or, you know, tick tock or something else. I think it's, it's challenging to get that coverage, unless you have really deep pockets and even spend on you know, paid social, although that's changed a lot as well. So really, in 2015, it just made sense, because we knew our customer was there. So I think part of it is your customer on Amazon. Are Are your products Search Driven? Or are they just lifestyle kind of aspirational, ours are very Search Driven, at least a large part of the catalog is
Deeannee Akerson 14:25
Right, you need a nursing bra, you're typing in nursing bra
Garret Akerson 14:29
In Amazon, yeah. And so we made the decision from day one to launch on on Amazon and our own store. And in fact, early days, we actually concentrated much more on Amazon and building that channel. And just let that or not let foster growth on Amazon until Amazon was making enough money that it actually supported pouring a lot of money into paid social. So we didn't really start in social paid social Google search, we look Pay Per Click until 2017, almost two years in
Andy Splichal 15:04
Now that you have grown into a known brand, how much of the sales have remained on Amazon versus through your old website?
Garret Akerson 15:15
Yes. So that's really shifted it. Like I said, if you were in 2015 2016, we would have been 95% probably Amazon. And where as today that shifted to, you know, maybe 30 - 35%, some months 25%, but very much shifted. The other way more like two thirds, one third.
Andy Splichal 15:39
Two thirds on your own website.
Garret Akerson 15:41
Andy Splichal 15:42
Now, are there any other platforms, other than, than your own website and Amazon that you sell your products on?
Deeannee Akerson 15:53
Not really, we have a few very small retail partners that we have partnered with across the US. But in terms of volume, it's really Amazon and our own website.
Garret Akerson 16:08
You know, that being said, we sell some on Nordstrom online. But again, to Deeanne's point, these are very small numbers just because the marketplace is so large on on Amazon, and then we've done for the team has done an amazing job of really building out kinderbravely.com. But you know, we sell on Zappos we sell on Nordstrom online, sell unfair to small use fair for smaller boutiques, but it's really not a large portion of our business.
Andy Splichal 16:37
Now, personally, are there any business books out there that you would attribute to success on your journey as entrepreneurs?
Garret Akerson 16:47
I think Deanna has a favorite mentor. But before she hops in talks about that, I would say my favorite business book, still, and I've read it a couple times. Is the Road Less Stupid by Keith Cunningham. And it's just a wealth of knowledge.
Andy Splichal 17:09
I'll have to, I haven't heard of that. Why, but I love the title.
Garret Akerson 17:12
Yeah, so good.
Deeannee Akerson 17:14
We've attended some of his conferences. And once you have heard him talk, it's like, he's almost shouting off the pages to you, and it just gets in your head in a very good way.
Garret Akerson 17:26
Now, what about you, Deeanne, Garrett had mentioned that you had?
Deeannee Akerson 17:33
Yeah. Well, I was influenced very strongly when we went to a business conference early on by one of the speakers named Jeff Hoffman. He's one of the former founders of Priceline. And although I didn't get this from a book, it's still probably the most influential advice, you know, he spoke about a lot. But one thing that really stuck with me is he said, to fall in love with your customer, and not your product. And that hit me in such a way because at the time, I was so product focused, I mean, this all began out of my need for a pair of breastfeeding pajamas. So I was, I was in love with my products, I was in love with the fabric, the buttery feel, how soft and amazing they were, I was definitely in love with my products. And the two bras we had brought to market by them. And when I heard him talk and say that it really shifted something in my head because he said, if you're successful, you're going to be knocked off, you're going to be copied products come and go. But your customer is there forever. And so when you really focus on your customer and who you're serving, it takes you right to the next innovation, the next product, what you can do to really serve them and make their life better. So yeah, that was definitely the most influential piece of business advice I've ever had.
Andy Splichal 18:55
Now, that's great advice, by the way. Now, this next question is for Garrett, you know, I read somewhere that you really need to be passionate about your product, and maybe this goes to what Deeanne just said, but Garrett, are you passionate about your product?
Garret Akerson 19:10
That's a good question. The short answer is yes. I am certainly in the minority we are. By we, I mean the the guys, the men in the company are certainly in the minority. I think for me, what I'm most passionate about the product one is amazing. I don't know that personally. But you know, Deeanne, is is the designer, original designer anyway, and as always designed for what she knew she wanted and would love. So I think the bar is you have to have great product and from all the feedback from everyobe else? It's clear from our customer that the product is amazing.
Deeannee Akerson 20:04
And don't lie, use your mind joggers.
Andy Splichal 20:08
Now the truth is,
Deeannee Akerson 20:09
We actually have a team joke because there's about five employees whose husbands have stolen their joggers. So now not only for moms
Andy Splichal 20:22
Now Kindred Bravely, it's an interesting name for a company. Is there a story behind the name?
Deeannee Akerson 20:28
Yeah, Kindred comes from the fact that as soon as you are pregnant or have a little one, or really, if you're even trying to have a little one, you kind of join this, this sisterhood of other women. And there's this instant connection, you can see another mom in the same life phases, you and other pregnant woman walking around somebody else with the little one at the store or the park. And you just feel connected without ever having exchanged. You no words at all. Like there's just this connection, this kindred sisterhood that does exist when you are pregnant and breastfeeding. And then Bravely, because it's hard. The sleep deprivation is real. Like try getting up every two to four hours for the next eight months and see how you feel. It's not the bravery that you see in movies, but it's there. It's the kind of bravery they you know, you keep going even when you have a sick kiddo, a teething kiddo. You know, you have stood up for breast milk on your shirt, you haven't showered in a couple of days. Like, it's that silent bravery of moms that, you know, we want to encourage, and we want her to know that she's not alone during this time, and that we get her. So thanks for asking that. That's where the name comes from.
Andy Splichal 21:48
Now, what do you think has been the biggest reason why you've been able to scale your brand to where you are now?
Garret Akerson 21:58
I think two main factors, I think the first one being marketing acumen, you can have phenomenal product in 2021. And still get nowhere if you don't have someone on your team that fundamentally understands how to market the product. And the you know, that encompasses everything from price point to how you're going to, you know, increase ARV what your LTM looks like? How are you going to keep you know, a cost down. And it's, it's more competitive than ever. So I think any team if there's a founder, and they do not have marketing expertise, like deep marketing expertise, I thinkit's a real uphill battle, you could have a phenomenal product and just get nowhere because no one will ever hear about it. So either I think you need a co founder that has that or you need to hire relatively quickly. For someone that really can drive growth that I mentioned earlier, I think the bar is you have to have a phenomenal product. There's plenty of brands out there that can scale to a certain extent without phenomenal product, but I think it really hinders growth, and they don't they just do not scale as well as obviously with brands with a great product.
Andy Splichal 23:31
Now, what are some of your long term goals when it comes to to Kindred Bravely?
Deeannee Akerson 23:38
Well, our mission is a comfortable nursing bra in every mother's wardrobe. So we still have a ways to go on that. That'll keep us going for a few years.
Andy Splichal 23:49
Are you guys are you international as well? Are you?
Deeannee Akerson 23:52
We sell a little we sell a little bit in Canada through Amazon, but primarily us only at this point.
Garret Akerson 24:00
Yeah, I think continued expansion. Certainly a lot of opportunity to expand internationally. And still, to Dan's point, a lot of new moms that haven't heard of Kinder Bravely.
Andy Splichal 24:12
Would you like to sell your company someday?
Garret Akerson 24:14
You know, that's a great question. We did a majority recap this last year. So we did sell some of it a percentage of it to a private equity firm out of New York. And I think we're more than more than satisfied with that, or I don't know the right word, but so far, we're really happy with them as a partner. I guess it's the easy thing to kind of the easy way to put it. So I think you know, in the life of every brand, not every but if if I look back at brands that have managed to scale you know, the Warby Parker's, the lululemon of the world at some point, it makes sense to bring in an outside partner. And so we made the decision to do that this last year.
Andy Splichal 25:08
Now, before we wrap it up today, what is some advice that you can give to other ecommerce store owners out there that they want to grow their brand?
Deeannee Akerson 25:20
Yeah, don't don't give up isn't is not easy at first. Make sure it's something that you feel like working for for the next five years. And just keep trying, if if something didn't work, then that's one thing to try differently the next day, every day is a chance to try something different until you know you get that traction and, you know, get things moving. Surround yourself with people that maybe have done it before or can give you advice. So you don't have to try blindly for too long.
Garret Akerson 25:57
Yeah, I think I think certainly don't, don't give up right. It's a long lonely road and find others that are on that journey. Or, or have already done it is a big one. And then I think really making sure that you have a solid understanding of your metrics, your KPIs, and how they all work in concert with each other. And really understanding the nuts and bolts of the business of okay, if my a cost is $43 and my ARV is 67, am I going to make money. So there's you know, really
Andy Splichal 26:39
Know your numbers.
Deeannee Akerson 26:40
Know your numbers. Yeah, don't fly blind.
Andy Splichal 26:43
Fail forward, get a mentor know your numbers.
Garret Akerson 26:46
Andy Splichal 26:47
Is there anything else you'd like to add before we wrap it up today?
Garret Akerson 26:51
Hey, I would say happy to help. Speaking of which, if anybody you know, wants to reach out, we're an open book. And I'm always happy to help out another entrepreneur on their journey. So thank you, Andy. This is this is a lot of fun.
Andy Splichal 27:06
Great. Well, thank you again for joining us today.
Deeannee Akerson 27:09
Yeah, thanks so much for having us.
Andy Splichal 27:11
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