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.

Fabian

EP056 – Brad Manning, Co-Brother, Two Blind Brothers

Strategic Clarity + Verbal Clarity

Brad Manning is one of the Co-Founders, or Co-Brothers as he puts it, of Two Blind Brothers, a mission-based company whose name is telling at least one important part of this brand’s story.

 

Two Blind Brothers is a NYC-based clothing line that focuses on luxury casual wear. Both founders are affected with a form of macular degeneration and pledge 100% of their profits to medical research to cure blindness. And their brand campaigns and stories are heartfelt and master examples of whip-smart marketing.

 

In this wonderfully inspiring conversation, we talk about what happens when mission-based brands pivot once their vision is fulfilled, how brands with a deep purpose have an easier time expanding across different product categories, how their ‘shop blind’ strategy is working miracles, how underproduced brand materials often outperform polished ones and above all, if you want to get a master class in authentic brand storytelling, this is it.

 

And as you know me, we also go a bit off-topic as I was wondering how a great keynote speaker like Brad works a big speech without being able to rely on a confidence monitor. The lesson: Despite being partially blind he has an advantage over those with perfect vision. And that is a key takeaway for those of you living with an impairment. You can follow Brad’s lead and turn that impairment into your superpower.

Notes

Learn more about Two Blind Brothers

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Fabian Geyrhalter:

Welcome to the show, Brad.

Brad Manning:

Thank you very much, I’m glad to be here.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah, absolutely. I would have love to truly have the two blind brothers on the podcast, but Brian had just an emergency this morning, so I will pick only your brain today Brad, and that’s just all right.

Brad Manning:

Well, to be honest, he usually ruins it with all the less intelligent things he says, it’s usually insults directed at me, so this will actually be maybe the most productive interview we will ever have.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Look, I staged everything but now you totally ruined it. We didn’t really want him on the show. We figured this out a long time ago you and I. I’m super thrilled, I’m super thrilled to have you in the show. I can’t believe that you went on the Ellen Degeneres Show before you end on mine, but I forgive you guys, because my show wasn’t around in 2017, and that’s why, so you’re all good, you’re clean.

Brad Manning:

Well, yeah, we just missed your email. I promise that was it, yeah. We told her to hold off but she was begging, begging to have us on, so we had to do it.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I heard about that. It’s a little bit embarrassing for her, but you got to do what you got to do. Really, really excited to have you. You guys went from selling your first shirt to your physics teacher back at school to being one of the fastest growing cause-driven companies in the US and all of that happened within one year. Your success and your story and your brand name, they’re all very interlinked. Would you mind getting a quick introduction to the listeners who are not familiar with your brand, The Two Blind Brothers?

Brad Manning:

Sure. My brother and I have a rare eye condition called Stargardt disease. What that is, is it’s a juvenile form of macular degeneration. A lot of people’s parents or grandparents have macular degeneration. It’s about 11 million people in the US who have a retinal eye disease, most of them is that adult macular degeneration and it’s something that we grew up with. Our version of it was very rare. We really had no interest in starting a brand or a business around it. We both went to the University of Virginia. I ended up working in finance, Brian worked in sales for a data company. We just had this moment of serendipity where we were shopping in a store, and if you are blind or visually impaired sometimes shopping can be a big pain. You can’t see the sizes, the labels, the prices. The way that we would always do it is just grab something beside it. We love the way it felt, and then we do all the other work to figure out if we wanted to buy it.

On this particular day, we ended up buying the exact same shirt after having lost each other in the store. We were also, at that time, really fascinated with our recent medical, huge almost a miracle that they had reversed a very rare eye disease in children and we just decided, what if this could be our way to give back to a cause that we had always been close to, the foundation, Fighting Blindness, funding these early researchers, and make the softest clothing that we possibly could, and that’s when we came up with the idea for our clothing brand, Two Blind Brothers.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s amazing. You are really on an end-to-end mission. Each shirt has a braille tag on its sleeve, your for production moved to an organization for the blind who are now manufacturing all of your clothes. You give a hundred percent of your proceeds to help find a cure, which, as you just mentioned, it might not be quite out of reach. There’s a lot of clinical trials going on right now. Here is a very optimistic, hopeful thought. What is they find a cure? Do you have your brand roadmap all laid out on how the mission will pivot, perhaps to ensure everyone gets a treatment or to expand to other related causes? What is that end goal if you reach that first end goal?

Brad Manning:

Well, I’ll tell you this, and this has just been a huge truth about, I’m sure anybody who runs a small business or a small brand can relate to this. The objectives seem to change every 3 to 6 months, in terms of where is this going, what are we doing. The mission is always going to be the same, keep funding the research. The truth of the matter is, it’s not like a … there isn’t, at least not in a foreseeable future vision pond, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The truth of the matter is, we are going to be in this fight for a long time. The positive news is that it’s really just that. It is just a matter of time.

A lot of the science has been proven out. There are some of these rare single gene conditions, for example, that are actually being checked off the list. The one example I give, LCA called lebers congenital amaurosis, the therapy is called [inaudible 00:05:42], but there’s many like it that are coming down. The mission is always going to be the same. The truth is the real spirit of the project beyond the donations of the research is really about empowering this community. That’s actually been the thing that’s been the most fun and the most exciting for us. We didn’t really, maybe naively, didn’t anticipate the role that the community would play in this. For us, it’s almost like going back in time to our younger selves when we were maybe struggling with different aspects of the visual challenges or talking to or our mother. We hear from a lot of parents that are trying to get advice on how to raise kids who have a visual challenge, and that’s been one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

You started by making a super soft shirt, which is such a huge part of the founding story, that’s where even the idea came from, by being able to differentiate a product by touch. Now you make sunglasses, all very much relate back to what is at the heart of your brand. Offerings keep growing into socks and into backpacks, etc. Does it really matter? It’s a mission-based brand, right? Does it really matter at this point what you sell, since the cause is at the root? As long as they are well-made products at a decent price point, are you at that point where you could literally start selling pretty much anything that is a lifestyle product and that is just a good product?

Brad Manning:

Yeah. People who are very smart on branding and marketing, which is actually not Brian and I. We learned this all along the way. There are some brands, guardrails, obviously that attentions to things that are soft, sunglasses that protects the eyesight. Really, and then more, we’ll probably get into this with some of the other questions, but the truth of the matter is it’s all about authenticity and what makes sense and what you actually believe in. That’s been one of the fundamental aspect of this project, is when Brian and I decided it was going to be a brand called Two Blind Brothers. That’s a general term that refers to him and I as individuals. In a way, it’s forced us to be extra critical about the decisions that we’re making for the customers in the business, because it ultimately reflects on us personally. My aunt Marilyn isn’t happy with the socks that she’s getting. I hear about it like it was my fault for getting her order late. It’s very personal, but authenticity drives all of those decisions.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

You said a lot of the really important things here. First off you said, “Look, Fabian, we’re not the great brand marketers and we had to learn this.” I think you’re giving yourself not enough credit, because the idea of how you branded yourself, Two Blind Brothers, the entire philosophy and how it’s injected into the product and how it’s so seamless, and yeah, maybe you guys don’t have the brand knowledge, but you sure intrinsically have it in you, and that to me is … and that goes back to authenticity. You just want to do what’s what’s right, and you put basically “your name out in the door”, and you allow people in. When brands do that, it just ups the ante a little bit of what is being expected by themselves off of their own product. But really, you guys-

Brad Manning:

You know what it is. The way I think about it is it was purely bottoms up instead of top down. No one in their right mind would think of how much money they’re going to make or or how much breadth or scale they’re going to get. If they are creating a nuanced mission around blindness with premium priced clothing brand, but there’s a few businesses that are probably more competitive than it, restaurants maybe. This is not … this started from a place of, what are we 100% in love with doing, and if it were to fail on those merits, then now it’s going to be just fine with us because we were so excited about it. From the branding perspective, I think something about that works because it allowed us to … we started with what was 100% true and real and exciting and passionate for us. Then, we went out and found people who shared that feeling. I guess what I mean is it didn’t start from that top-down perspective where you think about your ideal customer, your ideal market, product market fit and those types of important questions.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Totally, totally, absolutely, totally get it. But I look at you now as a brand, and I look through your Instagram feed, which usually is where you look at how brands are really behaving these days, because it’s already so authentic, Instagram versus the website and everything else. You guys are just creating one great brand campaign after [inaudible 00:11:35]. I hate calling it campaign, but just stories that you put out there for the sunglasses launch. For instance, you stated if you lose a pair of sunglasses, we send you a replacement for life. Again, very heartfelt since it is something that happens to everyone, but super close to the cause as well as visually impaired are obviously sadly losing glasses all the time like you stated in the video, you’re like, “This happens to me daily. It ought to be it happens monthly, like this is just my life.

Then you had the hashtag, #blindreturnchallenge, where you urged people to send back one of those many, many Amazon packages. I guess, especially now during the pandemic, those tens of Amazon packages that pileup in front of people’s doorsteps every day, and instead of those, return those and instead, help your cause. This past Thanksgiving, which was just a couple weeks ago, now you ask people to shop blind. I thought that was amazing. On the website it reads, “Would you buy something that you can’t see? We promise you’ll get something you’ll love. If you don’t think it’s perfect, you can return it, no questions asked. Trust us, 100% of the product that donated to the foundation fighting blindness to help find a cure for blindness. After November 30, all of these items disappear.” What you’re doing is really genius. It goes so deep into your brand. It talks about trust, which is everything that anyone who is visually impaired is exposed to. This is their lifeline, you trust everyone around you to help you, to guide you, to be faithful.

Then in the end, it’s scarcity. “Hey, this is only for a couple days.” The idea of the whole point is trust, give it a shop, you’ll love it. This whole conversation is really amazing, and with all of these creative campaigns, what I wonder, because I only stumbled upon the last three, four, which one of these, and it might’ve been the last one, was the most successful? Which one do you feel totally tanked? We love hearing that too.

Brad Manning:

Yeah. Shop blind, the Shop Blind Challenge totally transformed our business.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Wow!

Brad Manning:

It accounts for 90% of our sales. What we do with it now is every three weeks or four weeks, however long the particular period is, we change the product. If you are a repeat customer, you’re not going to get the same thing. Those products get rotated out and then we have the new challenge with the new products, slightly different price points, but the Shop Blind Challenge is by far the most successful. The way we think about it is, as a small brand, we got addicted to Facebook and Instagram ads early on in that we saw that if we put a dollar into these ads we were getting some gross margin, some net margin back. We were also get, in terms of sale, we were also getting all the brand awareness around the folks that maybe decided not to purchase from seeing that ad.

We started leaning really hard into that. The question that we, and I’m sure there’s better marketing jargon to put it in, but the question that we are always asking is how do we compete with the 10,000 other clothing brands or blindness related charities that are trying to get people’s attention? It starts from the premise of, we need to say something, explain something, create something that is so difficult to ignore and the most interesting thing that maybe somebody has heard that day. What we realized is the bar, to rise above the noise, is just a little bit higher than most people think it is.

We thought we had a great story to begin with, good enough for it to get featured in some of the great publicity we got. But once we realize that we actually, you got it, we had to push that envelope and think about what was the most creative thing that we could come up with, and then the best ideas are the ones that only you could do.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Uh huh (affirmative).

Brad Manning:

It doesn’t makes sense for another brand to do. They could come up with maybe a version of it, but they wouldn’t be Shop Blind. It might be their mystery box or something. The thing that only your brand could really make sense to stand for, that’s where the best ideas are going to come. That’s, at least, the principle that we operate on.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Absolute truth. Then you do it in a bold manner too, and I think that’s important, because even if you have an idea like that, Shop Blind, then to pull it off and to hundred percent go with that idea that people do have no idea what they’re going to receive and you don’t even have teasers, there’s none of that. Either you go 100% or you don’t even get into those waters. I think a lot of brands, they tiptoe around those things. It’s like, “Well, but we got to give people something.” Then it’s, again, it’s decisions by committee and its larger companies and they just can’t pull it off, because quite frankly, they just don’t have the guts to do it.

Brad Manning:

Well, to the point you just made, and if people don’t understand the Shop Blind, they could watch it on YouTube or they could Google it. Essentially, you described it with that description, but we’re just challenging people to pick a price point without any info on the product, no image, no nothing, and just basically trust us, in the same way that trust has actually lifted up my brother and I in a lot of circumstances. If we can’t see a menu in a restaurant, yes, we can get a magnifier, yes, we can ask for the braille, a braille version of the menu, or we can use text-to-speech on our phones, sometimes the easiest thing we can do is ask the person at the table next to us or ask the waiter for their recommendation. These little acts of trust lift us up and so we thought we could challenge people to trust.

Here’s something very interesting about the analytics on Shop Blind. We do have a full clothing brand, so we have T-shirts and hoodies and things of that nature. To send somebody something while shopping blind you have to have them their gender and their size. Although there are some items, let’s say a beanie or a scarf or a blanket, for example, that’s single [skew 00:18:36] where you don’t have to ask somebody gender and size. When we ask people that one extra step to say, are you shopping for a man or a woman? Or, what size are you shopping for? We actually lose a lot of conversion rates. People actually liked … they like the purity of the experience and when we start interjecting what they would think of is their normal shopping behaviors, it doesn’t connect as well.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Interesting, very interesting. It does make sense come to think of it, because this is not been buying a shirt, this is them getting into an experience, and it should be uninterrupted until they receive it. Super interesting, and thanks for sharing that. I think there’s a lot to think about with that. You talked about this, like trust is everything for when you’re blind and hence you translated that into your brand through the campaign we just talked about, and only you can basically run that campaign really in that sense. But on the flip side, trust is also the holy grail for all brands, for every brand. Gaining and sustaining trust with your audience is what all marketers and founders strive for. How do you feel trust is being earned for brands these days?

Brad Manning:

To be honest, I don’t know. I think it is so hard to differentiate. I think the first place I just witnessed it as a consumer was actually in media, where all of a sudden there’s this great decentralization because anybody with an iPhone and a YouTube channel can offer to entertain or inform people. Somebody might speak exactly to the points and topics that you care about, and then I feel like I saw a little bit of it with the major retailers, where they used to be all on convenience, but now there’s just so many nuanced brand that are taking 1% or a quarter of a percent of those customers, and it hurts those brands that have super strong trust, strong brand or the ability to differentiate. All I know is I don’t know how you can run an ad or a marketing campaign and just say, “Hey, we make a great quality product for a great price.” It’s just there’s too much noise in regards to that.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah.

Brad Manning:

it’s really tough. We’ve had flexibility to … this is all for the mission and for the community at the end of the day. We have maybe some … we aren’t forced to guide to the same metrics that may be a similar business might need to look at, which can do more for the customer.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah, yeah. I think one of the holy grails to trust is actually authenticity and you guys just so embody it that you don’t think about it a lot, but I think a lot of brands today, that’s how I see them gaining trust, because they’re just extremely transparent and authentic and truthful and that is that next wave of startups that can do it, because they’re small. They don’t even know what else to do. Quite frankly, it is fascinating doing this pandemic where a lot of smaller businesses suddenly have to lay everything out in front of the customers, of like who they really are and that they’re struggling for instance, and suddenly people actually react to that. They want to give, they want to know the story behind the business and what’s really going on inside of the sausage factory, so to speak.

I think that there’s a really interesting trend that’s happening right now for better for marketing but for worse, of course, the reason why this is happening currently. Switching over to the visual aspects for a second here, branding is obviously often seen as a very visual thing, which of course is just one component, there’s much more to a brand. Mainly, it’s heart and soul and it’s storytelling, which are both huge reasons your brand is doing so well. Both you and your brother are also gifted speakers. What lessons have you learned in creating a brand that leads with heart and soul and gut instinct and empathy? Perhaps any advice for founders out there on how to craft their stories? Your story is, it’s one thing to live that story, it’s another thing to be able to voice that story.

Brad Manning:

Yeah. A few things come to mind. There’s a couple of quotes and examples that I really like. One is the more personal, the more universal. We thought we were alienating people when we first started by being so focused on this particular retinal eye disease mission. The fact of the matter is when you can expose something that’s very true and very personal to you, it actually connects other people because we all have those things that we care about. The second is there is method to being a great storyteller. You have to be able to paint that vision for people and walk them through why you are so excited about this, because you are must be, fundamentally must be the biggest cheerleader for what you’re doing. How you feel about it … and by the way, Brian and I learned this when we would get teased about our eyesight when we were little.

When a bully would come up to us or somebody new would come up and say, “You can’t see that. What’s wrong with you?” When we would be shy and cower and try to qualify ourselves, it only made it worse. When you could look at that person and just say, “Oh, I got crappy eyesight,” and then next question and move on, you saw that the way that you frame something is the way that people interpret it. It’s very important to know to be able to frame those things. Then the other thing I’ll just add because this really blew me away, the first time we launched the Shop Blind campaign, it was Brian and I doing a video, explaining what we already explained here about why we’re doing and would you trust us, would you Shop Blind, a second grade teacher bought the Shop Blind experience for her class, explained the concept to them, and her teaching is just in the back video there.

The kid, when she says, “I don’t know what’s in the box. I don’t know what I got. It’s all about trust,” the kids lose their minds, and even though it was just socks, when I was in second grade, I didn’t care about that, but maybe they just like the surprise, but she sent us that video and we worked through the permissions and we had to make sure no kid;s faces were in it, but we ran that clip as our ad, and in it killed everything else we were doing. It was amazing. That didn’t take a fancy camera or brand guardrails that we express to her before she recorded that. Authenticity punches above its weight right now. When people can tell that there is no BS that the message is being filtered through, it draws people in really hard, and sometimes the most underproduced thing actually will be the thing that outperforms the most.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Absolutely. I saw that video that you’re talking about, which obviously … you have to see that video if you just searched for two blind brothers. Like you said, it was so well-performing it pops up immediately. I was wondering, was that, not produced or staged, but was this something that was done by someone purposefully that afterwards it will be posted? But it just doesn’t feel like it, and that’s what makes it. Back to you guys, I’m a keynote speaker myself and I’m super interested in this topic, but something like a random question, I have to ask you this. We keynote speakers, and the audience knows that, we love having our confidence moan at monitors. As they call them in the industry, it’s basically our cheap monitors that are on the stage that the audience can’t really see and we can catch our thoughts. Knowing that you’re not hundred percent blind, are you able to see them or do you have your speeches a hundred percent memorized and you don’t have a fallback plan at all given your condition?

Brad Manning:

I absolutely love that you’ve asked. We’ve never been asked this.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I assume so.

Brad Manning:

I’ll tell you exactly.First of all, Brian, we have a blast with the speak, for whatever reason, I don’t know because it is just fun to tell your story, it’s fun to connect with folks in person. We’ve really enjoyed the speaking. Frankly, we probably should’ve talked to people who have done it more to get better at it. We really don’t have great vision for reading prints. We can read really large print. We don’t have any monitors but I’ll tell you this, we are one advantage, and it is just that there’s two of us on stage. The fact is, we practice, we 100% memorize it. We don’t try to script it per se, so we have major points that we walk through. But the fact that there’s two of us there actually helps a ton and in fact, when one of us forget something or screws up, it almost is more fun.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah, yeah.

Brad Manning:

That, I think, gives us a lot of … it actually gives us a certain type help.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Confidence, yeah.

Brad Manning:

We have that backup.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s amazing, because guys like me get a confidence monitor, you get a confidence brother. I listen to a couple of your speeches and they are so great and I really want everyone to check out the speeches because you actually learn more about the brand too. But the way that, it’s like playing ping-pong, like the way that you guys finish your thoughts and, obviously, you’re brothers and you’ve been going through this challenge together, and now you’re business partners together, so you literally can finish each other’s sentence. But you can also make fun of each other and you can poke each other, and as we know from the beginning of the show today. I think that there is … I could totally see that, but I never would’ve thought that that’s your confidence monitor, basically. Super interesting. I’m glad I asked that random question.

Brad Manning:

Yeah.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

We talked about the audience, we talked about … in the beginning, you talked about community and how important that was for you, and you weren’t really, really sure about that. How important was community in the end to the success of your brand? How do you now foster your community? Because you talk a lot about people doing repeat purchases and it’s like once they’re in your universe, they really want to be part of it, and they want to feel like they’re part of this small community.

Brad Manning:

It’s everything. The fact of the matter is the only way we get any traction is when somebody you empathizes and with the mission, frankly, we hope and we aim that when someone buys something from us they’re like, “Oh! I didn’t realize how great this stuff is. I just thought the story was cool.” Our aim is to always have them as a customer for the product, but the truth of the matter is, most people initially find us or come to us because they connect with the story and it’s been everything. But from Brian and I’s perspective, it really shook us up because … If you’ve watched any of those longer talks you may have heard some of these stories.

There was a kid who reached out to us who was 19 years old, who said he was a college student and he had been sleeping a lot, and that he was just diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which is a disease that can cause total blindness over a 15-year period. It closes in around your peripheral vision, then your center vision. He wrote in our customer service line, he wrote this sentence that just crushed us. He said, “I’ve been sleeping a lot because I’d rather be asleep dreaming in 20/20 vision than awake knowing that I’m going blind.”

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Wow.

Brad Manning:

He followed it up with some encouraging words. He said, “I just saw what you guys are doing, I connected with some folks and I’m social and I’m just feeling a little bit better than I have in a while and just wanted to thank you.” When we started this project, it was about having fun and doing something nice for the foundation fighting blindness. As soon as we started getting messages like that, it called on a sense of responsibility that we never anticipated. That type of attitude that we may have been victim to when we were five and seven years old, that’s not acceptable. Er view that as unacceptable and we want to do what we can to get out there and for any single person that may find themselves in a situation where they’ve been challenged and now they feel like they are less them, that really hits home for us. That’s where the community is what inspires us to do this every day actually.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Absolutely, yeah. That’s a big story and that’s how community is being built instantaneously, if someone asks for help or you feel that, and then obviously, this is how one thing leads to another. Well, talking about community and assistance, being on Ellen was a game changer for you as a brand, but it was the result of you telling your story to literally anyone and everyone who wanted to listen until the Ellen producer saw a piece you had, I think, on Now This!

Brad Manning:

Right.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I’m such a firm believer in this idea that most interview in podcast, TV, radio, etc, opportunities are good ones because you just never know who is listening. This is really, really fun for me today because I did a course for a company called Mental Box up in San Francisco five years ago, didn’t think much about it I just did it. Just today, in fact in the morning, I closed a really nice big branding project because someone in Kuwait who found me through that course that I recorded in San Francisco has been following me ever since and today we signed a contract for a nice branding project. You just never know where this moment starts where someone gets in touch with your brand, with your, I call it your brand atmosphere.

Brad Manning:

Uh huh (affirmative).

Fabian Geyrhalter:

When they poke through that atmosphere to find you. Here’s the Two Blind Brothers, you don’t know when they first find you, but it could be any of these random things, and with Ellen, that was the exact same thing when they just found you on a different interview. What are your thoughts on spreading your word? How important to a young brand do you see traditional PR and media in times like these, in times of social media?

Brad Manning:

It’s tough. To be honest, somebody else other than me to make the case for PR and media. All of our any sort of earned media publicity opportunities have come from people seeing our ads on Facebook, Instagram, and now TikTok, as we just do our thing advertising to customers. We haven’t … and it’s because it’s so easy. Back in the day, you needed that intermediary because you didn’t have the contacts or the way to get in touch with people. But it’s a good truth teller. When you go and reach out to all these companies, you do get a lot of crickets because the truth of the matter is this person who you want to feature you is still capable of finding exactly the type of story they want to feature.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah.

Brad Manning:

It doesn’t mean it’s not worth the test or worth the exercise, but it is a difficult situation. Everything we’ve gotten has come in through our customer. Even if we do a speech or a corporate order or something, it all comes from the social ads. But there is a refinement period. Brian and I’s first interview was a Fox spot. We just started the business, we have sold all maybe 30 shirts, and it was Fox spot local news segment, and those segments started forcing us to learn how to express our story. That was really critical that it’s almost like if you’ve given us … like giving a speech, the first time you do it, it’s the worst experience ever. By the time that you’re forced to do it 50 times, it’s like drinking water, it’s so natural.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah.

Brad Manning:

That’s how we view it. Yeah, it’s hard to measure the value of it. I just know that it is valuable, and we enjoy it, and like you said, it all snowballs on each other, one thing leads to the next.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s all interlinking. Now that you’ve successfully grown your mission-based brand for a little while. What does branding mean to you?

Brad Manning:

A big part of it is reputation. It’s not coming from a marketing background. Originally, we thought about it as almost like our reputation. What’s your first impression? What do your lifelong friends, What do they say about you? We view it as like, we are in it for the long term, and so we want to make sure that the people that we’re connecting through the business will always think a few things about what we’re doing. One, that we’re a hundred percent committed to the cause of blindness, both on the research side and the community side.

Two, we’re trying to make the softest products in the world that we possibly can. Three, we’re going to be authentic. We’re going to say how we feel and what’s going on in that moment and just see how it goes. That’s where we come from. There’s an element of it that is critical that was not a strength for us. All the copy and the colors and the visuals, we were lucky to have people help us with that. That element, that’s a big skill set and that part of it, it’s critical as well for at least getting people in your front door.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah. You guys are the visionaries, the two of you, which is wonderful to say of two visually-impaired founders trying to change the world really, but that’s it. You have your team around you that can assist with other elements like the visual brand. What is one or what are two words that can describe your brand? If you literally take everything we talked about for the last 40 or so minutes and you’ll put it through a funnel, and in the end you have to say, “Two blind brothers equals what?” Like for instance, Everlane, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, for them it’s all about radical transparency or Zappos, which sadly has been in the news with the passing of Tony Hsieh. They were all about service. What Two Blind Brothers in one word or two words?

Brad Manning:

That’s tough. I would say a couple. I would say what we try to communicate at the end of all of our speeches are is friction equals growth. Friction equals growth. You get hit with challenges in life and it’s about embracing them and moving toward. That’s what unlocks all of your resourcefulness, assertiveness, creativity. It’s not about the visual challenge, it’s about how you respond to it. Those are the characteristics that actually matter. The reason that it’s really around that is because that is the message that we find is most valuable to the community that needs it the most. We love all of our customers and we hope they love the product and the message that the person that were out there fighting the hardest for is that kid who got diagnosed with blindness who doesn’t think that he’s going to have a normal life and doesn’t think that he can compete in a real world. Our message to him or her is that friction, a challenge equals growth and your greatest challenges can be your greatest gifts.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

It’s beautiful and it’s such a universal message too. For everyone in their life, friction equals growth. It’s really fantastic.

Brad Manning:

Yeah, I was trying to put it in three words because I was trying to hit the two words. There’s a quote that there is no growth without friction.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah

Brad Manning:

That’s the simple way to say it, there is no growth without friction.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah, yeah. But I actually like friction equals growth, because the minute you arrive at a point of friction, which you do in life on a daily basis, some are minor and some are major, that you know this is not friction it’s actually, it means growth. Like this is your sign that now it’s time to grow, and I think it’s really, it’s inspirational but not at an inspirational quote type of cheesy way. It’s actually really applicable.

Brad Manning:

Yeah.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Listen, people listening to you for the last 40 minutes who fell in love with what you do, what would you like for them to be doing right this minute to support and also benefit from your brand?

Brad Manning:

I would say two things. I would say, if they want to learn more about us, they can Google “two blind brothers” or go to twoblindbrothers.com. For the folks that are interested in branding or running their own business, Brian and I feel very lucky that we decided to experiment with this passion of ours, and it’s led us on this incredibly fun and rewarding adventure. I would encourage anyone out there who’s got something that they’ve got a unique passion for, just keep running at it because you’ll be surprised how easy it is to connect with the people that resonate with what you’re doing. We live in the digital and social age. Fifteen years ago, there is no practical way to start a clothing brand or any project to target to a nuanced audience, now it’s completely different. Just words of encouragement to all those.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Brad, you are such an inspiration to all of us listening right in the field of branding and marketing, but most important to those who are impaired in whatever way, and because of your amazing success now feel that they can turn their impairment into their superpower. I want to thank you for what you’re doing, for how you’re doing it, that you’re doing it, and of course, that you took the time to be on hitting the mark. Thank you so much, and please give my best to Brian as well.

Brad Manning:

Absolutely. Thank you. The way that folks hear about us is because of folks like you and your listeners lifting us up. We were incredibly grateful to be able to share the story with you.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Absolutely my pleasure.


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