Hitting The Mark

Hitting The Mark

Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter.

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Fabian

EP051 – Dan Demsky, Co-Founder, Unbound Merino

Strategic Clarity

If you launch a t-shirt brand in this day and age and you find a way to stand out, you bet I’ll have you on my show. And that is exactly what Dan Demsky did by co-founding a Merino wool clothing brand that is high-performance yet stylish.

 

Dan was running a Creative Agency but sought to pivot into offering an eCommerce product that allows for scaling instead. That was the goal, then the journey of finding an actual need to built a brand around started.

 

In this fascinating conversation, we talk about the power of having a very narrow positioning at first, how surrounding yourself with friends that are ambitious is a key to success and how the outrageous claim of being able to wear an Unbound shirt for 18 days without washing it was the right brand move.

Notes

Learn more about Unbound Merino

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Fabian Geyrhalter:

Welcome to the show, Dan.

Dan Demsky:

Hey, how are you?

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Very good. Very good. Good to have you here. I love your backstory. I listened to another podcast interview, mainly because it actually resembles my story a little bit as I grew my design agency organically to a point of, under parenthesis, great success, at least to the outside world, but I myself just felt really stuck. So I flipped the switch and I started over, and it seems like you were doing something very similar with a video production company. Tell us a little bit about your journey and then your big epiphany to switch from the service industry to the product industry, which is always a very smart move.

Dan Demsky:

Yeah. Well, I had a really, really good experience and a good journey doing what I was doing, but I never originally intended to start a company. I was doing freelance video production with my best friend and business partner. And we started getting really busy, and before we knew it, we had a company. It wasn’t like we thought, “Let’s start a company,” we were just doing little projects. But being so busy, we started having to hire people to help, and then our client roster grew. And then we had a small downtown studio in downtown Toronto, and then a big office. And then we had 20 employees, and we’re like, “How did this happen?” It just happened. And it felt really good. It was really cool. And we were in our early 20s, we felt we were so smart and so savvy.

We were dumb and young, but we felt smart and savvy at the time. And it went on for years, but somewhere along the way, the business just, it didn’t call me like at once did, it didn’t excite me like it once did. And a lot of the realities of having a company and then the journey of entrepreneurship really blew up in my face. I love the journey, I love the ups, I love the downs. I love it all. But I felt at one point I’m just in the wrong place. And just for years, I was trying to think, “Well, is this what I’m going to do for the rest of my life or am I going to figure out something else?” And what I realized is the people around me who had e-commerce product businesses, they had a different level of scalability to their companies. They had a different level of freedom.

There’s something different about what they were doing in their business model that just drew me. So I knew I need to create a product business and that product is going to be sold online. But that’s as far as I was really able to wrap my head around where I wanted to go. So that’s not a lot of information to give yourself of what you want to do. It’s not an idea, that’s just like, “I think I want to have a business that has this business model at a high level.”

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Which is really unusual, Dan. Because usually, people on my show, they’re like, “I was sitting around and suddenly I’m like, ‘I need to fix this,’ and that’s how the… Or I had this huge passion, and out of this passion suddenly grew a business,” like with your first business. And so it’s very unusual, but it also makes it a lot of sense. I can 100% relate to that, where at some point, you just look at the lifestyle of other people around you and they’re not working their butt off like you are, and they don’t have payroll like you do. They didn’t do like production work which started with cool design and strategy, and suddenly it ends up just churning hours in payroll.

But really, just thinking about, “Okay, how am I going to flip this around and what am I going to do next?” So you must’ve gone through months or years of just thinking about what could that be.

Dan Demsky:

Yeah. And first of all, there’s nothing wrong with a service business, but what matters in a service business is that, I think, you have to be passionate about what the service is. Because when I was really into the video production, when we were into what we were doing, every day, the challenge, all the work we were putting in was exciting and fun, but once I lost the passion for it and it was no longer calling me, that’s when I figured out I needed to get out. So yeah, on a simple level, I was just thinking of the business model, but what I started doing was we started ticking on a chalkboard or a whiteboard or on a piece of paper.

Every couple of weeks we’d meet up and we would think, what is a potential business idea that could be a product? And we would just throw ideas at the wall. And so many of them were terrible. They were just bad ideas. But what we did that was right was we just were thinking, I was framing my head around, “We can do this. We can create a new business that’s going to be a product business.” And that opened up the lens for me to look at the world and, even on an unconscious level, try to think, “Well, what is that thing going to be?” And you do need that moment. Like you just said before, a lot of entrepreneurs, they say, “Oh, I need to solve this problem, or I have this thing I’m obsessed with,” and then that idea comes into fruition and they go and they chase after it and they make it happen.

I didn’t have that, but what I did have was the hunger to find that. And if you’re not looking, you’re not going to find it. So it wasn’t until I had that moment where I have identified a problem, I identified the moment where I’m like, “I could create this product that I wish existed.” Then it was like, click, boom, there it is. I’m going to go do it now. But it took years. You said, did it take weeks, months, years? It took years. We were tinkering with ideas for probably two to three years before we laid the groundwork to start moving forward on a specific idea.

Some of them we ideated with a little bit more, moved a little bit down road, thought, “This is a good idea, but maybe in not good timing. This one is a bad idea.” We’d just go through them. But it took, I’d say two to three years until we move forward saying, “This is the idea that we want to go out on.”

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And so when you say, we, was it you and your significant other, or you and a potential business partner? Who was it?

Dan Demsky:

My two best friends.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Oh, that’s great.

Dan Demsky:

Yeah. We didn’t have a business idea and I found some strategic partners, so it was me hanging out with my buddies. So we’d go, we’d sit at a lunch, like on the lunch break or on a Friday night and we’d have some beers and we’d just throw some ideas at the wall. So it was kind of a social experience, we were just having fun. But the intent was like, “Let’s figure out a product business because that’s what we want. That’s the life that we want to live. We want to start a new business, but we want one that has the scalability of a product business. Let’s just figure it out, and let’s have beers and that fun while we’re doing it.”

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah. And it’s really interesting because suddenly it’s two other people that need to be excited about the same idea, which is double as hard, three times as hard suddenly, to actually find that idea where all three say, “You know what? This could be it. This is it. We all feel like this could be a great product.”

Dan Demsky:

Well, this is the way I always look at it. I feel like you can have friends who are just there for you, to support you emotionally, whatever. And then you can have friends that have utility and function in your life that they have skills that you could work with. And I don’t look at that as a negative or a sour way of looking at what a friendship could be, I think utility is a good thing. I can go out for beers on a Friday night with any group of friends, but why not go out with the ones who have that zest for wanting to do things with you, to create things with you. There’s that old adage, “You’re the average of the five people closest to you.” That to me is the most important way to live your life.

If there are people that are close to you and they’re not ambitious and they don’t care to take more out of life, that doesn’t mean they’re bad people. They could be great people, but may you can have people a little closer to you that do have that, because if they do have that zest to want to do more in life, to build things, to create things, and those are the people that you spend your most of the time with, that becomes the bar in which you want to live your life. And that’s just the people I surround myself with. Now, having said that, I’m very lucky because these are the people I grew up with, these are my lifelong best friends. We just happened to be this way.

And maybe sometimes we all push each other. Maybe I’m the most ambitious one day, and that makes them want to roll up their sleeves a little bit more, but in times when I’m not my most productive and I’m not my most ambitious, one of my business partners, Andrew, for example, or Dima, they’re firing on all cylinders, and I feel, “Ah, man, I got to work harder. I want to do better.” So I work really hard to make sure that I’m surrounding myself with great people. And I’m lucky to have great people in my life. And once you have that, going out for beers on a Friday night is more than just telling inside jokes and taking a whiskey shots and drinking beers. It becomes like a pen and paper on the table and you start to think of bigger ideas and you start to create together.

It’s still just going out for beers at the end of the day, but the results of it are a lot more palpable.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Couldn’t agree more. Couldn’t agree more. And the actual idea was born, Dan, I believe, on your honeymoon, right? Or when you were traveling with your wife?

Dan Demsky:

That’s correct. You want me to tell the story of that? I discovered Merino wool as a way to solve the problem for my previous trip with her, which was when we had way too much luggage, all of which was hers, none of it which was actually needed or worn, and I had to haul stuff up hills for her and it was very frustrating. And on our honeymoon, we decided to travel with just a carry on. And the way to do that, I was Googling, “How do you travel overseas with just to carry on?” And I discovered Merino wool on a Reddit post where this guy said, “I pack Merino wool t-shirts because they’re antimicrobial, antibacterial, odor resistant.” Now, if you wear these multiple days in a row, even if you sweat through them, they’ll never smell and they’ll be just as fresh as the first day you put it on.”

I thought, “Perfect, I got to find this Merino wool.” And I went out looking for Merino wool stuff, but everything I found looked like active wear, as it was. Now, Merino wool, we didn’t invent this material, it was already being used in stuff for outdoors, stuff you can do a trip with, stuff you can run a triathlon with, stuff like that. And because it was made for this purpose, it really had that aesthetic. So I bought some Merino wool stuff and it performed as promised, it performed brilliantly. But when I look back at the pictures from the honeymoon, I’d be at a cocktail bar and I’d be wearing this t-shirt that had a reflective logo on it, and a cut that seemed a little bit more athletic wear.

I look at a place, and I remember feeling out of place. And I thought, “Why can’t I find more simple, stylish, timeless, classic type of?” I’m talking about a plain black v-neck t-shirt or crew neck t-shirt, but something that fits a little bit nicer, that doesn’t have those reflective embellishments, doesn’t look like I’m supposed to be going out for a run, maybe something that I can put on a nice pair of pants on and a watch and go out to a cocktail bar and I feel like I was in the right place. And it was very hard to find. So after years of searching, I was like, “Aha, I want that product for me, and I can’t find it. So maybe I should go create it.”

So I went to these two guys and I said, “This is the idea. This is what I think.” We were all looking for something. And I pitched them why it made sense. Andrew was the first person who went and he got some Merino wool clothing, he was like, “Wow, this is the best stuff ever.” But he felt the same way about what was available. We had to figure out how to manufacture clothing, and let’s do a crowdfunding campaign to see if the market actually is interested in this angle for Merino clothing that we haven’t seen out there. But that was our start.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s really great. And so what you actually did is you then took the story and you changed it around a little bit for your website where it talks about the three co-founders traveling together to see live bands, that’s how the idea was born, but you did that spin on the story ever so slightly, because you started to understand your target audience at that point, right?

Dan Demsky:

No, no. This is who we are. I’ve been going to see this band, Fish, with my two business partners since we were in high school. We have traveled all over the world. We don’t come from money, we were just hobbling together little ventures in order to be able to pay for all these adventures that would go on together. And that’s just who we are. The idea was born out of the aha moment I had when traveling on the honeymoon. But when I brought it to them, we were just thinking about how well this fits into like the way we live. And we’re not really fashion people, it’s is not about clothing, it’s about living simply. This thinking translates far beyond the clothing, it’s about having less things in your life, but better things. Living simply.

That’s why it was so easy to get the enthusiasm in them. I came up with this idea for my own traveling without them, but I came to them and it’s like, “It fits perfectly. This fits perfectly to who we are.” And that’s what makes it so easy for the marketing side of things, because this idea is so authentically us that all of the talking points about the product and the brand, it just falls into place naturally, because this is us. If this brand existed before we created it, we would just be customers.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah. Because the target audience is you. I mean, it’s your pain point, it’s how you like to travel. And quite frankly, my life was very different 15 years ago when I didn’t travel just with a carry on, and now all I do… I mean, Europe for three weeks, carry on, it doesn’t matter. Like even skiing vacation, it doesn’t matter, it’s all carry on. But it takes a lot to actually get to that epiphany, and then it takes really good product to take with you. So that it’s very versatile.

Dan Demsky:

That takes preparation and thinking, and then we just make a little part of that a little simpler, and that was our whole thinking. We said, “What products could we make that would reduce the largest amount of load in someone’s backpack or carry on suitcase?” So that was when we started with just t-shirts, underwear and socks, because we were thinking those are things that you need to bring lots and lots of. So what if you could bring less, how much packing is reduced?

Fabian Geyrhalter:

In your Indiegogo video, you talked about wearing a single one of your shirts for, I don’t know, like a month in a row or something outrageous.

Dan Demsky:

46 days.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah. Yeah. And my first thought is, “Wow, that’s disgusting.” No stink is great, but no washing is just gross. So to me, that falls into that just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should category, but the underlying idea must’ve resonated with your presumably 20 to 40-year-old meal traveler type audience. I see people on Instagram talking about how they’re wearing your shirt traveling through Thailand for 18 days straight without washing it. So that was the proof point. The idea that, “Listen, that’s how you can… ” That doesn’t mean you’re going to actually wear it for 18 days like the guy in Thailand.

Dan Demsky:

Here’s the thing, do you want to wear it 46 days in a row? Probably not. Can you? Yes. And the whole thing that we were doing there, and we were making this campaign thinking people are going to say that’s disgusting. But the truth is this, it’s just a sensational claim, that’s true. We can, and I actually did it. I actually put this to the test. And if you watch our video in our original Indiegogo video, you’ll see, I worked out in this thing, I saunas I would make it sweaty as it could possibly be, and then I would just air it out. Now, when you put on a pair of jeans, if you walk out on a hot summer day, even if you sweat a little bit, you’re not washing the jeans after everywhere.

People wash their jeans for two reasons, one, they get them actually dirty, like they spill something on their jeans or they get a muddy or something, or two, they just feel it’s about type, like, “I haven’t watched these jeans in a while. I’m going to wash them.” Or maybe they’ve gotten a little baggy, they want to tighten them up a little bit, so they fit a little more fitted or whatever. But people don’t think it’s gross to wear jeans multiple days in a row because the material is in the same way that Merino wool is, it’s not going to smell and it’s not going to carry the bacteria.

In fact, jeans carry no more bacteria after multiple wears than they do when they’re brand new, so people are used to this and they’re comfortable. But the paradigm shift of having that to your t-shirt is a lot for people to grasp, because they go, “You have sweaty armpits.” [crosstalk 00:18:07] and they’re just conditioned to it. At one point, you get conditioned to realizing that you just wash your shirts whenever you want. So the real thing is this, as you go on a trip with these shirts, and if you are staying in an Airbnb that has a laundry machine and you want to wash it, you’ve only worn it once or maybe worn it three times or four times, you wash it. Why not? You just totally wash it.

But if you can’t wash it, it’s not going to smell, and it’s not unsanitary. It’s completely, completely, okay to wear. So we were sensationalizing by doing the whole thing for 46 days in a row because that’s what made us stand out. So that was a complete marketing thing.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Totally. Totally. And that’s why I bring it in.

Dan Demsky:

But practically it’s true.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah, and that’s why I bring it up too, because you got around $400,000 of crowdfunding with your campaign. And so if you do the math, that’s like close to 2,000 people, I guess, buying $200 worth of clothes from an unknown, unproven company, no reviews, no actual products at the time. That’s amazing. And that’s how you did it. You just knew that there’s a very small target audience, that is actually really large, but it seems like a micro target audience of guys in their 20s, 30s, that like to travel, like to travel really lightly. And they’re okay wearing a t-shirt or two for a good number of days, and this is their solution.

Dan Demsky:

Right. And let me tell you something. When we were creating this campaign, I had a few friends that have created crowdfunding campaigns before successfully, and then I contacted people who I didn’t know who had done it. I did a lot of research to learn, how do I do this? I really want this thing to work. It was very important to me, because I told you I was unhappy with my other business. And a lot of the advice I’d get is, “Don’t position this as a travel product because you’re narrowing yourself so much, it could be so much bigger.” But for whatever reason, we decided to focus on that niche. And I’m really, really happy we did because when you look at crowdfunding campaigns, what a lot of them really do is they’re a very, very direct problem-solving product.

It solves a specific product and the campaigns almost feel like infomercials in which they beat you over the head with, what is it that this product is doing that is a benefit to you. So for us, we narrowed our niche by making it a travel product so that we could specify all of the messaging around solving a problem for travel. We didn’t really focus as much, or did talk about how it doesn’t smell, but really if you watch the campaign, you look through what we’re talking about the most, it’s about all of the ways in which traveling gets better when you have a product like this. You’ll breeze through the airport, you won’t have to wait at the luggage carousel, you don’t have any risk of your things getting lost.

You’re not going to look like a big tourist schlepping a huge heavy suitcase through a tourist area to be a target to scammers or people who are trying to sell you things. You just blend in and you can focus on the experience, and your vacations are better. So all of a sudden, anyone who’s traveling, they can now have an idea of this solution that can help them travel better. And that could be because they just care to have more of an experience-based travel style, or they could be older and it’s a pain to have to carry all those heavy luggage, so it solves that problem. But we really, really focused on the travel thing specifically to narrow our messaging down so that all of our marketing and everything could be all about one thing and not trying to blanket everything and appeal to nobody.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

It is so smart on so many levels. That is something that anyone can learn from that is launching any company, because, A, first you start narrow so you know exactly who to talk to and what to say to them. And then you can always broaden up over time, which you have. I mean, now you go into women’s clothes, now you go into underwear, socks.

Dan Demsky:

Well, I’ll tell you one thing that’s changed for us that we weren’t expecting.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

What’s that?

Dan Demsky:

We never expected that the entire planet would stop traveling at once.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah. Let’s talk about that a little bit

Dan Demsky:

So our travel messaging, which worked really well for us, and we were fine with Facebook ads or messaging over the course of about three years where we would A-B-C test ads so we would know that this word in capital letters would work better than if it wasn’t. So refined for traveling, and all of a sudden, none of it mattered anymore, so we had to go basically take all of our best performing ads, our Holy Grails of ads went garbage, complete garbage. And we had to change everything from our website, it was no longer about travel. And we thought, “You know what, one day we wanted to get to this point where we broadened outside of travel. Well, now we’ve got a chance, we have no choice.” So we slowly changed everything and we broadened out. Now, travel is a point of our messaging, but it’s not the entire messaging anymore.

And we can sit on the backs of tens of thousands of customers who love our product, who come back for more. We’ve always known this, the people who want to refine their traveling in the way that we were positioning it, they’re very conscious about how they’re traveling. They tend to be intelligent people who are trying to get something different out of traveling, it’s not just about photography and outfits, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but they’re looking more for the experience and tracking their travel to being more optimized.

And we knew that when these people buy our product for travel, they were going to see the benefits that this clothing could have outside of travel. It can reduce the amount of stuff they have in general, the amount of closet space they need. Then it could be more environmental because they don’t need to run their laundry machine as much. There’s a million reasons why this has beneficial outside of travel. Now, we have the use cases for them and customers are adapting to that, and we could focus a little bit more of our energy on how there is a broader appeal.

But I always felt very, very grateful that we decided early to focus just on travel, and I think there is a good lesson, as you said on that, that it’s easier to focus on one narrow thing and one narrow demographic of people because then you can really, really hone in on your messaging and really, really speak specifically to a certain group of people. And from there, you just start to expand. The expansion becomes very natural.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well, I was giving a speech last year when they were still speeches in an actual conference room. It was actually a Vegas speech, which was really exciting, and one of the people afterwards in the Q&A said, “Hey, if you niche so much into an audience, don’t you run out of things to say? Don’t you run out of content?” And I was like, “No, it’s exactly the opposite.” If you know your audience, you can go so deep into it because teachers keep giving you content. They just keep telling you what they want, how they feel, what they like. And you just keep going and going, and going and go deeper, and deeper, and deeper. So it’s actually the opposite. The more you niche-

Dan Demsky:

Exactly for something like travel. There’s a million ways of traveling, a million places to travel, a million styles of travel, travelers have so many interests. And even in the marketing, it’s not just about the messaging and the content, it could also be just about refining how you say the same thing, like I told you. Sometimes it’s just about, do you want to yell things? Do you want to write things in capital letters, like this word? That could be the difference, but if you’re focusing narrowly, you can tinker with the smallest things and see what works better. And it’s just a much, much better approach because you can go endlessly deep.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well, and another thing that you said prior that you’re doing with your approach is something that a lot of people, especially when they go with crowdfunding campaigns, they forget about this, is the idea that it’s not about the products, it’s about the experience. And very often, what you do with a product on Indiegogo, you just go into the details because guess what, the product doesn’t exist in that shape, so all you want to do is talk about the product. But what you do is you talk about the experience with the product, which is really what people buy into, because they want to be you, in your shoes, and you just happen to wear this product that gets you to this enhanced experience.

And that’s something that… You made it sound very easy like that’s just how it is, but it’s not, it takes a lot of thinking to actually end up there.

Dan Demsky:

It does. It takes a lot of thinking, but I’ll tell you what the most important thing, and I don’t think it gets talked about as much as it should. It really has to do with timing. We did all the work, so let’s just go under the assumption that if you’re going to launch a new product, you do all the work, you can’t be lazy. I read everything I could find on how to launch a crowdfunding campaign. I worked really, really hard to make sure that the pro… We went through so many different iterations of the prototypes to make sure the shirt fit the way we wanted and the quality was the way we wanted, and it drapes the way we wanted.

We worked on our messaging, our photography, all of that stuff. So just assume that you did a great job and you left no stone left unturned on that. If I were to release this product today, it probably wouldn’t work because the reason why I really think it did work is because I had that aha moment where like, no one’s doing it this way. And people, when they think of Merino, when they think of wool, they think, “Oh, is that going to be like a scarf?

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Or scratchy.

Dan Demsky:

It could be scratchy and bulky, it can’t be a comfortable t-shirt. So for people who are involved in this world of active wear and outdoors wear that know Merino well, they already know and love it, but we’re not going to speak to those people. They already have Merino Wolford there, use case. We’re going to speak to new people, people like me that just discovered that Merino wool could be a super fine material that’s a comfortable t-shirt and we’re going to speak to the urban traveler, it’s not for the people who are with the canoe, it’s for the people with the cocktail that are maybe doing a business meeting, and they don’t know this thing exists.

There was the whole timing element because I felt like no one is doing this the way I wanted, that was the single crux of why I thought this thing could work. It’s like, we’re not just another fish in a sea of companies doing this, we’re going to do this our way, and we’re going to speak about this our way, and no one’s doing it this way. That was the exciting part to me.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well, and it’s interesting because in a way you are a little bit of anti-brand. It’s super basic stuff, and you’re trying to have people actually buy less clothing in their lifetime. So you actually want people to own les, of course, you want them to own your stuff, but on the flip side, your product could be seen as a commodity. We noticed there’s tons of t-shirts using the same fabric, it’s basics made out of a very specific material, which is not the honorable. So in the way, brand in the end of the story is really everything for you. I mean, from the get-go, that is it.

Dan Demsky:

Everything. Brand is everything and our customers. For our customers… And you know what it is? If we’re going to talk about… Brand is so much more than just how cool your website looks and your logo looks. Brand is everything that the customer feels when interacting with you, and just boils down to trust. I’m not scared that we are in a red ocean industry of t-shirts. It doesn’t scare me because we have… As soon we’re going to have 100,000 customers that the large majority of them, they just trust us, they know the way that our shirt fits, they know that we’re very, very radically focused on quality of the product and the experience that they have.

If there’s any issues, we’ll deal with them, we make sure to ship as fast as we possibly can. They know the product quality they’re getting, they don’t need to look elsewhere. So other players would come in and they could undercut us, but if we take care of the problem, giving you the t-shirt that works for you, that fits the way you want it, that it’s performed as promised, we deliver it on time, our customer service is good, you can trust the experience, they don’t need to go elsewhere.

And these are people that are looking for simplicity, they’re not looking at, ‘Well, I’m going to go and find a way to save five bucks on the shirt. I’m going to go and find… ” I don’t need to solve that problem. I’ll give you an example. Right now, we use Zendesk is how we handle our customer service inquiries for our business. And there’s this other company that keeps contacting us saying you should switch off Zendesk. They’re very persistent, but I tried to tell them as clearly as possible, I’m like, “Look, I admire your hustle and your sales efforts, but you have zero chance. You have zero chance of us switching on Zendesk because Zendesk is working as promised. And the hassle of changing for me is not worth whatever it is that you’re pitching.”

It’s cheaper, has a little bit more fun… I don’t need any more functionality. This part of my business is working well. So Zendesk as a brand owns me right now. And that’s the way our customers are, we solve that problem for them. If they want the best black t-shirt, our black t-shirt is the one that they buy. They don’t need to go to Gap or H&M or find some other Merino wool company that’s springing up. But you know what, a lot of companies have sprung up after that have pretty much copied or what our messaging is. It doesn’t bother me at all, I feel flattered.

And it’s ultimately all we need to focus on is make sure that we care so much about our product care, so much about our brand experience, and care so much about our marketing. That’s the brand because that’s the way that people find out about us for the first time and then the way that they interact with us throughout the whole experience. And then ultimately, what matters the most is product. And if that’s what a brand is, the brand is, what do we make? Do they trust us? And how do we make the customer feel when they interact with us? And we focus all our energy on there, and that’s the most important thing we have.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And that most probably also safety over the last couple of months, because we’ve travel being gone suddenly as you already said, it must’ve been a huge shock to the system. First, you have to change the entire messaging, you have to really rethink that, but this is at a point where you already have, I guess, you said up to 100,000 customers at this point, these people are repeat customers and they make referrals. And then suddenly, it’s a machine just keeps on working even though travel is down, but it must’ve still impacted you, right?

Dan Demsky:

Yeah, it did. It did, but it forced us to become more mature of a company to be honest, because we grew fast and to be perfectly blunt, it made us a little lazy, and that was a big life lesson for us. We were growing without trying at one point, and maybe after 10 years of entrepreneurship and going through ups and downs, I think I needed a breather. So I wasn’t working as hard leading up to COVID, and that wasn’t something that I consciously did, I just in hindsight noticed. I let myself get a little bit more tired and lazy, and I had a great growth business and things are good, but then we got scared, man.

When COVID came around and the travel industry was grinded completely to a halt, our sales, they declined drastically in that first month. And we were used to 100% growth month over month. So any month compared to the year before, at least 100% growth. And then in the first month, our sales were down 50%. We’ve never even just stayed the same let alone down. So we thought, “Oh my God, this is really, really bad.” We almost went into like the war room to figure out what are all the things we can be doing to get our revenue back up.

And everything we did, there were things that we could have been doing all along, but we weren’t. And I think that the world changed, a little bit of normalcy has crept back in since then. So I think organically, things have gone back up, but we have done a lot more to get our business back to growth, back into growth mode, and what’s where we are again. And the lesson I got from that was never, and this is not just about the fact that a pandemic can come in and dismantle everything you’ve worked so hard for, that’s an extreme.

But what happened was the little bit of success we had, bred a little bit of laziness, and all that laziness, this is the lesson, all that laziness did to me was stop me from achieving what my own greatness was, “Now, do I need to make more money?” It’s not about money, it’s not about I need this company to grow, but why would I not want to continue to challenge myself to do the best I can, to grow in the best way as I can? And the laziness I had, and I’m not that lazy, I’m a productive person, but by my own standards, compared to who I’ve been when I started this company or when I started my first business or when I’m in my optimal hustle modes, it’s like, that’s me challenging myself to be the greatest version of myself and to take the most from life in this short period of time in which I’m so lucky to be alive.

So it felt like the little bits of laziest I had, was denying myself of being what my potential is. And that’s the lesson at the core of what I learned, it’s like, it took a pandemic to scare me a little bit, but it’s like never, ever get comfortable, because when you get comfortable, you get lazy. And if you get lazy, you just become mediocre. And I think I had a tiptoe towards that

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And I think on that note, it’s also important that one doesn’t have to go in 110% all the time, too. Consistent laziness is one thing but I think that the pandemic teaches a lot of entrepreneurs that actually suddenly taking time out for a week or two and not being on 110%, it’s actually quite healthy, but I know exactly what you’re talking about. And I think it happens with a lot of us, when business is going really, really, really well, even though we have to work hard, we work hard in processes we’re used to, everything is going swimmingly, but then once things are one things slow down, we freak out.

So instead of using the time when things are great to keep R&D, to keep innovating, to keep thinking about processes and looking at new client options and strategic positioning changes, whatever. So I think it’s a really, really good lesson to learn. Looking back, what was one big brand fail, where you felt like you launched this product, or you were doing the Indiegogo campaign, and then the product was there, was there some point where you felt like, “Holy smokes, we totally went into the wrong direction,” with either the messaging or like a video or something that you do with the production, or was this something where you just felt, “Oh my God, we totally screwed that up.” Something that people can learn from?

Dan Demsky:

Honestly, the failures feel, some of them feel glaring to me all the time, but they might be… Sometimes I look at our packaging or our product page and think, “Oh my God, this is such trash.” And then I read every day a review coming in and saying, “This is the best packaging ever.” I’m always harsh on myself, so I don’t even know where to begin.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

But there wasn’t one big thing where you were like, you know you totally-

Dan Demsky:

I hate to bring up the exact same thing we just talked about, but the big failure that I had was not continuing, and it’s something that I’ll continue to try to drill deep on, but to get lazy is the failure, because there were so many opportunities. We could have grown a lot more and you have to constantly….Always, always live with thinking about this, you’re lucky to be where you’re at and it could all end soon, and fight against the tide. And I agreed, not at the expense of your health or the relationships you have with your loved ones or anything like that.

That could be a real big detriment, but that I think was the failure because I think we could have been so much further along, and it’s all just the little moments of laziness we had, which we’re not there anymore right now, which is great.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

No, absolutely. Last big question. If you would take the entire Unbound brand and you would distill it into one word, maybe the experience or a feeling, if you think about the Everlane, you think about transparency. If you think about Coke, they want you to believe happiness. What could be one word, I call it your brand DNA, what could be one word that you could put to describe Unbound, unless it’s unbound, which of course, it shouldn’t be.

Dan Demsky:

We have three words, but the first one is the one that I think encapsulates the most of who we are, and that’s simplicity. It’s simplicity in the design, it’s simplicity in the market we choose to tackle, it’s simplicity in the life in which it help with travel. It’s about reducing the brand ethos. Our number one core value that we live by in our company is less, but better. And that’s the way that we think about how to run our company strategically, it’s how we think to live our lives, it’s how we think of about our product line.

That’s why we don’t follow any trends, this is what clothing that’s in style. We only focus on stuff that’s timeless and classic, something that you could have worn… If you saw a picture of yourself wearing our t-shirt 15 years ago, that’s going to look completely normal and good. And it looks good today, and it’s going to look good in 15 years. We don’t have seasonality, we don’t have spring, summer or fall, winter lines, we just have our core products. And that’s who we are, from the inside-out, we’re all about simplicity

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And simplicity is what everyone aches for, and simplicity is also the toughest thing to accomplish as a company, as we see with all Fortune 100 and 500 struggling as to innovate how it’s simplicity. Someone who knows simplicity quite well is your pug who’s been lying next to you, snoring away during the entire interview. And I think we heard him or her, so you got to at least give a little introduction.

Dan Demsky:

Yeah. This is my pug, Walter, he’s laying right next to me. I’ll be honest, sometimes I’ll do a podcast interview or I’m on an important meeting, and he knows that he could get under my skin, so he’ll jump on the ground and start barking and just ruining everything. Although you hear him snoring, this is-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

He is good.

Dan Demsky:

Yeah. He’s not distracting and barking, the reason he does that is because he knows that what I’ll do is I’ll stuff a little thing with peanut butter and he can eat it. And he’s been conditioned to know the more… I’m getting better at, and this sounds weird, but there’s a tone in my voice when I get serious about something that he’s able to identify, so I’ve tried to-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Oh, I’m sure. Yeah.

Dan Demsky:

So he’s constrained me to be more natural to who I am and not be so serious, because if I’m serious, this is a serious podcast or a serious phone call or whatever, he’s going to clue in and ruin it all.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Walter, the mascot of simplicity.

Dan Demsky:

Yeah. It’s the snoring, we should be lucky, that’s all we got.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

We are. We are. Listen, as we come to a close here, where can people learn more about Unbound? Where should they be heading?

Dan Demsky:

You just type in Unbound Merino. Unbound, U-N-B-O-U-N-D, Merino is M-E-R-I-N-O. We’re on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, if you Google us, whatever, that’s where you’ll find us.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Awesome.

Dan Demsky:

And the website, of course, unboundmerino.com.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Of course. Of course. Thank you, Dan, for having been on the show, really appreciate it, great insights. Good luck with the next couple of months and years of your company. And I can’t wait to try out some of those shirts myself, hopefully, for a future international travel at some point in my life. Until then, I guess, I’ll take it camping.

Dan Demsky:

Yes. Thank you so much. It was great to be on your show.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Absolutely. My pleasure.


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