NYLP: Welcome to the New York Launch Pod, a podcast highlighting new start-ups, businesses, and openings in the York City area. I’m Hal Coopersmith, and in this episode, we are speaking to Brian Berger, the co-founder of Mack Weldon. Mack Weldon is a New York City company that makes men’s essentials and men’s underwear. In this episode, we talk about what makes their products so different, their underwear so soft, and we even talk about my underwear so you definitely do not want to miss that.
Brian is a fantastic guy. He had a whole career in marketing before jumping off and starting Mack Weldon. So we talk about being an entrepreneur later in life and the sacrifices that he and his family had to make. And if you’re thinking you’re going be talking about men’s underwear, will you ever talk about women’s underwear, I have news for you, we already have. Check out episode seven with Dear Kate, and if you like underwear or fashion or both, then you’ll love that episode as well.
And before we begin we have a sponsor, the online custom framing company simplyframed.com. Because if you are listening to the New York Launch Pod, you are a classy person. I know that. You know that. And what do classy accomplished people like you have? Art on their walls and probably a diploma or two or three if you’re really smart. Simply Framed believes in high quality custom framing that can be both easy and affordable. I can tell you for a fact it is because I’ve used it myself. Prices start at $65 and include free shipping both ways, both ways. Simply mail your art diploma, whatever you can find or upload your image for convenient printing and framing from home.
Go to simplyframed.com and use code NYLAUNCH for 10% off your first order. That’s not an affiliate code, that’s just how nice and awesome they are. Simply Framed, framing so easy you can do it from home wearing your underwear, maybe your Mack Weldon underwear, maybe your Dear Kates. Alright, with all that behind us, let’s go to the interview. Stepping on to the Launch Pod, we have Brian Berger. Welcome, Brian.
Brian: Thanks so much for having me, Hal.
NYLP: So, how much time do you spend thinking about underwear?
Brian: All day every day.
NYLP: All day every day. Was that always the case?
Brian: It wasn’t always the case but I was always very very frustrated by shopping for underwear, marketing of underwear and then very kind of a let down by the customer experience of actually wearing the product and how it performed. That was really the kind of nagging thing that I tried to solve when I started this business.
NYLP: Why did underwear get to you?
Brian: Well, it got to me because it was a category that, I mean it applies to every, pretty much every guy, everybody wears underwear and socks and many guys are spending a decent amount of money for their underwear and socks. And then the last thing is that we all have opinions about our underwear and socks even if we don’t, we’re not even conscious of it. Because I was thinking about it but if you actually start to ask people at a cocktail party or whatever, people have a lot to say, even people that you wouldn’t think have a lot to say. And so, it was something that I believed was really applicable to a huge audience and I just kind of liked the idea of solving for a product, solving for myself and it was always something that I felt. And if I can solve for myself, chances are there is a lot of other guys who have a similar issue.
NYLP: So, what made you decide to start your own underwear company?
Brian: Well, the idea was really to launch a brand that was really rooted in the basics socks, underwear, undershirts, T-shirts the kind of foundation of the wardrobe. And the product strategy was let’s innovate, let’s create product that is truly unique and differentiated and let’s build a customer experience that is far better than what exists in the traditional model. And if we can do that and we do that effectively, incredibly two things will happen. One, we will have a loyal customer base that comes back on a regular cycle to replenish those things but we’ll also have a license if we do our jobs to introduce other things that fit that sort of general criteria. Wardrobe essentials, opportunity for innovation, easy sizing, not fashion sensitive, not seasonal, kind of easy to ship. We could build, you know, a brand off of this, you know, this kind of foundation and that’s really what it was about.
NYLP: And how long ago did you get your start or did you start?
Brian: 2016 was our fourth full year, we launched in August of 2012, so about four and a half years.
NYLP: And then when you were walking around all these cocktail parties, what were people saying about their underwear?
Brian: “I can’t wait for you to launch because I’m going to buy all my stuff from you, provided it’s good.”
NYLP: I feel like guys are weird about their underwear. Like, I remember this Seinfeld that I just looked up before this interview where he talks about how guys just wait for their underwear to literally disintegrate before they fill them out.”
Brian: Well, that was the Aha moment for me because my wife came up from work one day and she’s like ” By the way, I threw out all your underwear and socks, so, you know, make sure you…”
NYLP: Make sure you start a company…
Brian: Allocate some time this weekend to go buy more. And so I did that and I was like “This is the last time I ever doing this.” Because the experience just was terrible. And part of the reason why it’s so terrible for again, if you’re not in the kind of mass Hanes, Jockey, Fruit of the Loom zone and you go to a department store to buy underwear, you’re just overwhelmed with choice. And the reason why that happens is because brands that sell through third party retailers are constantly forced to innovate just for the sake of selling stuff to a buyer every year. And that’s really counter to what the customer wants in this category. They want consistency, they want reliability, they’ll accept innovation, change related to innovation but not just change for change sake. Creates a lot of confusion.
So, for me it was really about creating a brand that was really rooted in, you know, authenticity, consistency, innovation. What I found is the reason why guys don’t buy underwear is because it’s kind of A, product is pretty mediocre and B, it’s horrible to shop for. So, if we can make it easy and we could take something that you looked at as painful to something that is actually a pleasure and then you’re excited when you get it and the product looks beautiful and the packaging is great and it’s easy to reorder, then how many things do we get to indulge in, right? I mean, you know, it’s the only thing in your wardrobe that, it’s not the only thing but it’s next to your skin, it’s underneath all your clothes, it determines how everything else fits and feels. And so in that respect, it’s kind of plays an important role, so we’re just kind of elevating it.
NYLP: How long ago did your wife throw out all your underwear? When was this idea first formed?
Brian: We were in the lab for about, I would say nine months prior to starting, so we launched in August of ‘12, so the beginning of, end of ‘11 beginning of ‘12.
NYLP: And then you mentioned the lab, what was involved in that?
Brian: The lab is really for us was about, I mean we essentially built the whole company before we launched. We established the brand identity and that’s everything from, you know, what is the logo look like and what is the name to, you know, how we’re going to brand the product to make it unique and have our signature like branding on the product to the initial product line which was not just underwear, it was underwear, socks, Ts, and undershirts and some variants within those. So more than just one thing. It was figuring out sourcing and supply chain, it was building the website, designing and building the website, it was setting up all the fulfillment operations. So it was a lot of stuff to kind of piece together without having sold a single thing.
NYLP: And how many people were helping you at that time?
Brian: It was really, it was myself and my co-founder Michael Isaacman and series of amazing partnerships that we forged with third parties that have expertise in these areas.
NYLP: How did you and Michael meet?
Brian: We’ve met actually very, very happenstance. I was networking with a guy who I knew from the techworld which is where I come from and another guy came to meet with him after me, we kind of recognize each other, couldn’t place where. We exchanged cards, he emailed me, we met and asked me what I was up to. And I told him and he said, “Well, I don’t really, you know, have any expertise there but a lot of the families of my kids go to school with, the parents are in the fashion world, you should meet some of them.” And I’m like “I’ll meet anyone at this point. So make some intros for me.” And he sent me a list of people, Michael was on the list and we met.
And he had a lot of ideas and opinions and was similarly frustrated by … He’s a career fashion and in apparel executive and was very frustrated by the fact that he was spending all this time and effort and care developing amazing product but then it was relying upon third parties to sell those products. And what ended up happening oftentimes was deep discounting, off price, you know, fire sales, those kinds of things which really cheapened everything that he and his teams were doing. So, he came to this with a particular score to settle with kind of the old way of doing things.
NYLP: And how did you two know that it was a good match?
Brian: I think, we got along well enough. I think we were adding, filling gaps in skill set that each of us had, and so we were both learning so that was kind of interesting. I think there was a lot of kind of overlap personally, you know, people who knew common things, you know, and that was kind of enough, I think.
NYLP: So you and Michael, you decided, “Alright, we’re in this together. We’re
going to go to the underwear lab.” How long did it take for you guys to come up with the design for the product?
Brian: Well, design is a multi-step process. It starts out with sketches on a page or an illustrator file, modern terms. And then that goes, you know, gets sent to a technical designer that builds it into a sort of a blueprint, if you will, and then that gets shipped to a factory. Parallel to that, you are iterating on fabric, so you’re looking at swatches of fabrics, stock fabrics, custom fabrics, you’re having to come to the table with something that you feel is optimal from that side because a big part of our stories are on fabrics. All of our fabrics are unique blends. We don’t like take anything off the shelf. We are always kind of adding something to it to make it unique. So there’s that, and then once you settle on those two things, then it goes through a series of prototyping. All in it could take 90 to 120 days if you’re really focused, which we were at the time, so it’s probably about that long. Some things take longer.
NYLP: And how many iterations of the, let’s say the boxer briefs did you have to do before you came up with the final design?
Brian: It was probably three or four prototype cycles. It’s not like a different thing each time, it’s, you know, you get the first thing and then each time, each successive time it’s closer to the mark. I will never forget the first meeting we had where we were looking at prototypes. We’d spent all this time doing the things I just described and I was in the meeting and, our team showed it to us and I literally almost fell off my chair. I was like, “We should get our resumes ready because, this is just awful. We spent all this time.” And he had to talk me off a ledge before he said, “Oh, I forgot you never sat through our first proto meeting. This is actually pretty good for a first proto meeting.”
NYLP: Michael talked to you off the ledge.
Brian: Michael talked to me off the ledge, yeah. It was definitely, really smooth sailing from there but I always refer back to that even today, last week somebody showed me something and I had an adverse reaction to it and Michael said “It’s the first round why you …” I’m…”Well, nobody told me that. I thought this was near to the finish line. That’s why I’m freaking out.” So, I think you learn that very quickly as an outsider that, you know, things have to go through these cycles. If you’re good, you can shorten the cycles, you can make each iteration more informed. We have a fit guy who’s a legend in the industry and he helps us make us better – because that’s the other piece of it “fit”. Every time you do proto, you have to fit it to make sure that the fitting is perfect, every fabric responds differently, if you change one thing. It’s fairly complicated. I learned to have an appreciation for that.
NYLP: I have to imagine that fit is very complicated and it feels like a lot of clothing brands are getting more into fit and just making sure that the fit is right for different body types. How do you guys go about doing that?
Brian: Not only is it hard to address at the product level but it’s really hard to manage at the business level. Because you can imagine, you’re wearing dress shirt right now how many measurements go into not only just sizing of that shirt but then also all the fit preferences. Some guys like to wear them fitted, some guys like a little room. So that also plays into it. Fortunately, all the things that we sell are generally knits that stretch so the fit challenge isn’t really high and that is a very big positive to our business model because, you know, our return rates are low because people love the product but also because you don’t have this like “I’ve got to have two or three cycles before I can get to my size,” which you have with jeans, shoes, shirts and other things.
NYLP: So, what makes your underwear different?
Brian: There are really two things in everything that we make. The two fundamental things are the fabric and the overall design. It was nice of you to bring your underwear, your clean underwear to show me that you’re actually a customer so…
NYLP: They’re orange, they’re orange underwear.
Brian: They’re orange, which in the context of this office feels interesting. So, the fabric of this particular version is what we call 18 Hour Jersey. It’s a custom blend of long-staple cotton, Modal, and Lycra. So we don’t skimp on any of the ingredients. We use Lenzing Modal, actual Lycra. All that really means is that it last longer, performs better, and the stretch and recovery is good. We’re not f cutting corners to preserve margin on that thing.
And then the other things or some of the other feature detail. The waistband. We spent a lot of time engineering a waistband that won’t roll over and it’s really soft. We have these kind of mesh we call the mesh cool zones. They’re essentially pique fabric on your lower back and by the fly area where you may want a little extra airflow. Little details like that. No tags or anything on the inside touching your skin, all that stuff is printed on the outside. It’s a little design signature but it’s also just the idea that nothing is touching your skin except for the really soft fabric. So, those are the things that make it unique and everything we make, we can tells the same story.
NYLP: And so, I have this underwear right here as you discussed and you have one of these venting zones right here in the back.
NYLP: Did you come up with that right from the get go?
Brian: One of the places where you, you know, lose the most amount of heat is in your lower back so that actually helps facilitate a little bit more coolness. You usually have your shirt tucked in also back there. And so, in addition to being a cool design feature, it actually has a functional purpose. We try not to do anything that feels gimmicky or just for design sake. It costs a lot of money to stitch that thing in there, which means the product is more expensive and the customer has to pay more. So if we’re going to do that, we really want to make sure that it has a purpose.
NYLP: And then you mentioned the custom blend of fabric, what does that mean for someone who doesn’t know?
Brian: It just means that we’re really specifying the mix of contents. So in this case, it is cotton, Modal, Lycra and also the weight of the fabric. You have to figure out how heavy you want it to be and so we’ll go through…
There’s a lot that is sort of stock, things that are pretty commonly used. And we have found that typically it never quite meets the markets, either too heavy, too light, too much like…
That what you have there is cotton, Modal, Lycra, a lot of underwear has a lot of Modal in it. Modal has a silky spongy feel to it. It also peels a lot. So it’s amazingly soft, it absorbs more than 50% more than cotton. It has that really soft hand feel to it. But if you have too much of it, the product degrades faster and it just feels more synthetic. So, that’s the kind of thing that we’ll kind of walk out on.
NYLP: How did you learn all that stuff that you can walk you walked out on?
Brian: One of our lead product guys was very involved with Lululemon, Crocs, Adidas, and Nike in the early days. And he is perhaps the most knowledgeable human being I’ve ever met when it comes to product development, technical product development like this. He really knows a lot.
NYLP: And it seems like now you’re on a podcast, people who have listened to other podcasts know that a lot of underwear companies are advertising on podcasts or they’re online, there’s just a whole permutation of all these different types of companies. Why do you think that is?
Brian: I think the thesis is legitimate, right? You know, the thesis that I founded this business upon is one that is legitimate and that it’s been experienced by a lot of guys and I think, you know, any great idea is not really unique in it of itself, it’s really the execution of that idea. So, the fact that somebody wants to build a better mousetrap in this category, not super novel but the execution of that is what really differentiates us. That’s really my thought on the matter. I think you see it in eyeglasses, you see it in mattresses, you see it…I suppose there’s also a piece of it too that is really a little bit of start-up gold rush like somebody gets funding or there are some news and like everybody just floods to that market. In a consumer goods business, there are natural barriers to how many and who can enter and how successful people can be just because it’s so capital intensive.
NYLP: And how much does the underwear sell for?
Brian: What you have right there is $24. We have underwear at a few different price points, this is our core work course. This is our number one product right there. That and the navy blue is numero uno. We have a Silver Line that is Pima Cotton and silver, silver fiber is really interesting because it’s naturally antimicrobial, keeps you cool and dry has a really luxurious hand feel and s has a really good technical story and the Pima Cotton obviously is also known to be really soft and luxurious, so that’s $38.
NYLP: And so when you’re selling underwear for $24 or $38 and the guy says, “You know, I’ve been buying Fruit of the Loom or Hanes or whatever how do you say, you know, what you really should be buying something that’s $24 or $38 and that education process?
Brian: Well, first of all, we guarantee it, right? We’ll say, “You don’t like it the first pairs on us we’ll pay for it and keep it or refund your money.” So, that’s a way of of getting people over the hurdle, the trial hurdle. And I think as it relates to the other, you know, if you’re somebody who’s upgrading from kind of a mass brand I think if the experience isn’t immediately apparent then we’re probably not for you because it is so, should be so immediately apparent. But for most people, I think they do realize “Wow, I have one anecdote on that.” My oldest son is now able to fit into a small, you know, Mack Weldon and we’re gearing him up for camp last summer and he had just piles of I won’t give the actual name, but A, mass market underwear brand in his drawer.
NYLP: How did you let that happen?
Brian: Well, because he couldn’t fit into this.
Brian: So, I said I’ll bring it home something, if you fit into it we’ll give you a fresh l run of these things for kids. And he put them on he was like, “Dad, I cannot believe how soft this is. It feels like I’m wearing nothing.” And so that was la very pure, you know, kid’s reaction but I think the fact is it just it’s better. It’s like what’s the difference between a McDonald’s hamburger and when did you get it, you know, at Balthazar or something, it’s better. The ingredients are better, it tastes better.
NYLP: But isn’t it more about how you get a customer to try the more expensive?
Brian: Well, the way we do it is we say that it’s guaranteed. And the guarantee helps. We use, whether it’s PR or third party endorsement that we’ve gotten from GQ or Men’s Health or Men’s Fitness or other notable outlets that people trust. We also do it through customer testimonials. The best way to get people to convert is through word of mouth and customer referrals. We have referral program but there’s a lot of word of mouth that just happens organically. That’s really the best way.
NYLP: And what’s your experience being an online brand? Because, you do have to get the word out there. Obviously the advantage of lower overhead but you have customer acquisition costs.
Brian: Yeah, I think that’s one of the big misnomers about digitally native businesses that somehow you’re cutting out the middleman and you’re building this huge audience of people without any of the overhead. Well, that’s not really true. It costs a lot of money to get customers. And you have to be really smart about the kind of economics of what you’re paying to get a customer and how much that customer is worth to you over time.
And that level of analysis, data analytics to support it, expertise to execute not only on the campaigns to get customers in but also a long-term CRM on those customers is really, really, really unique. And, you can’t just light up a website and hire an agency to do this stuff for you. The companies that are doing really well are the ones that actually have the resources internally and really treat it as part of their real corporate IP.
NYLP: Was this part of your plan from the beginning? You have experience in digital marketing and digital campaigns?
Brian: Yeah. I mean prior to doing this, I was in a position where I was looking at investments and acquisitions of digital businesses, whether they were media businesses or commerce businesses. And through that process, I really got exposure to entrepreneurs and operators who really got this and understood very clearly that, the real differentiation was the companies that had that expertise versus the companies that outsourced it or just took a lot of other people’s money and dumped it into traditional advertising in a very inefficient way. So I knew that when we started this, that a big part of our, kind of block and tackle grind it out, growth strategy would be executing these acquisition oriented ROI focused campaigns. In addition to all the other stuff that we do, content creation, PR, driving word of mouth, partnerships, celebrity seeding, whatever, things like this, interviews.
NYLP: Obviously things like this the most important.
Brian: Of course, yes. Well, there’s nothing better than this.
NYLP: Right. So, what are the key markets that you target?
Brian: Geography is pretty well distributed throughout and we are sold in every state, Puerto Rico, Alaska. We ship in the United States and Canada. We’ve shipped all over the world because we do handle international orders not through our site, it’s a little bit of a manual process that we’ve been doing but through the country, across the country it’s proportionally distributed in line with the states and their populations. But heavy concentration of the East and West Coasts and everywhere else, Midwest, Southeast, Pacific Northwest and middle of the country.
NYLP: And do you have an ideal guy that you’re targeting?
Brian: It’s a question, I think that every brand has sort of the profile of customer, and for us, it tends to be 25 to 45-year-old urban, mass-affluent, professional guys. But we see double digit percentages of customers above that range and below that range. And a lot of that has to do with the relatability of the brand. I don’t think we really offend anyone. I don’t think an older person will look at our brand and be like, “Oh, that’s for young people,” or a young person will look at this brand and be like, “Oh, that’s not cool.”
So I think there is some aspect of that which has really counter to the marketing, edict of like start really narrow and then expand from there. And then the other piece of it is how we market. We’re not really as focused…well, it’s not like you’re buying a magazine and saying, “Oh, this is the demographic of the magazine that you’re buying, put an ad in here.” We are looking at actual conversion data. So if we happen to be fishing in a pond with people who exhibit a counter profile to who we think our customer is but they’re converting great. I think that also plays into it.
NYLP: You touched on this a little bit but what does the Mack Weldon brand stand for?
Brian: There are really three thingsL product innovation, legitimate stuff that we can point to, an experience that is all about convenience for the customer, that’s not just because we’re e-commerce. It’s how we price, how we assort, how we think about the overall customer experience. And then the third piece is really about, all about long-term customer relationships and really enabling dialogue with customers over time so that they don’t think whenever we speak to them, it’s only about selling them something.
NYLP: And one of the things that’s unique about your brand and your product which I think you touched on it is that it applies to all ages, it’s not you’re just targeting someone who’s in their 20s or 30s. You really run the gamut. Young, older and it’s unique that you’re able to do that.
Brian: Yeah. And again I think, I’m not sure that was or is deliberate. I think we, we always intended to create a brand that was relatable. Because part of what, you know, didn’t make sense when we looked at traditional brands. It was why does an airbrushed guy lying on a table with no hair on his body and shadows all over the place why does that make me want to buy this product? I don’t know. To me that talks about how it’s going to make the rest of my clothes fit or the ingredients that make it more functional that sort of technical storyline made so much more sense to us. And so, I think in trying to create a brand that was very relatable, one of the positive aspects of that was that we were able to attract a pretty wide demographic of customers.
NYLP: Is there a story behind the name?
Brian: Yeah. The name was derived from… there was a brand called Weldon in the early 1900’s that made underwear and sleepwear. And we found some old advertising from them and the advertising was really kind of funny and light-hearted and innovative at a time when most of what we saw was very light utilitarian. So, we liked the nod to history and the Mack was kind of like the modern alter ego to that. Plus it felt very masculine and like it had been around for a while.
NYLP: Where is everything manufactured?
Brian: We have a global supply chain. Some of our fabrics come from the United States. We manufacture in Asia, South America primarily is where most of our fabrics are sourced and the product is actually assembled. Everything is designed here, all of our silver fibers comes from Pennsylvania, pretty amazing factory.
NYLP: You’re based in New York. Have there been advantages to being based in New York for you?
Brian: I think so. I think aside from being kind of the center of everything, New York is a place where if you’re able to make noise and able to sort of cut through the noise that’s here, the reward for that is pretty high, both in the form of customer engagement, press influencer, access and marketing talent. I think all those things are an advantage here. There are other places like it. Certainly in the Bay Area, LA, Miami. So there are places that have similar attributes but I think at least it relates to a fashion brand or consumer goods brand, if you can be successful here then I think that speaks volumes to your potential for other places.
NYLP: Is this if the first company that you’ve started?
Brian: It is.
NYLP: What was it like taking the plunge doing that?
Brian: Actually, that’s not entirely true when I was in graduate school actually I was in important precondition to this, my wife and her very close friend started an innovative accessories business, targeted at the yoga market. And I because I was in school and had the time and I was interested in applying my skills, we designed the product, we sourced it, we imported it, we sold it through multiple distribution channels. And it was a small thing but it definitely taught me a lot of things that applied here. So, yeah. So that was before that but in terms of taking the plunge I think your question was “How long did it take for me to take the plunge?”
NYLP: What was it like to take the plunge?
Brian: It’s hard.
NYLP: You had a high-powered a high-powered job, right?
Brian: Yes. It’s very very difficult to go…most of the entrepreneurs that you read about start in the dorm room, garage, ramen situation. I had two kids, one on the way I was already like you know decently along in my career and certainly the comforts of salary, benefits, big company access. So in that respect, it was hard to leave that but my plan had always been if you went back and read one of the essays I wrote to business school that I was going back after having worked in some really interesting jobs to like just nail a few gaps in my skill set so that I could do something like this.
AndI think for m e it was really always about, you know, making sure that I always felt confident enough to do that at some point. Because I think what happens is when you get comfortable, it just becomes harder and harder. So, I just …it was timing, it was support obviously my family and wife are extraordinarily supportive of me, jumping in with me, taking the risk which is a huge thing because obviously, it’s not just me worrying about this, at least in my case it wasn’t.
NYLP: How long ago did you go to business school?
Brian: I was in graduate school from 2001 to 2003.
NYLP: And then after that what did you do?
Brian: Most business school people don’t start companies, which is ironic because everyone there, are the smartest people around.
NYLP: One of the things that I admire about you and Michael is that you had families, careers before stepping into this. What advice would you give to someone who has had a career and, has let’s call them golden handcuffs to jump into entrepreneurship?
Brian: I think there are really two things in there, I guess they’re kind of obvious. The first is make sure that you have complete buy in from your significant other or spouse and, really, really understand what you’re getting into and what it means. And the second is to really understand economically what you can tolerate. Because, when you’re putting money into your business, you’re not making money, and you don’t want to severely curtail your lifestyle at least not at the stage we were at. It wasn’t like we were kids just graduated college, we had pretty established lives.
So just to be really being honest about this … it’s really not for everyone. I think the movie version of it is very glamorous, we’ve been fortunate, hasn’t always been amazing but it’s been a very, very good experience. But you really have to I think be very, try to be very honest, talk to as many people as you can. And then once you make the decision, just go for it because, you can talk about it all day long until you actually start. Until you invest your dollars, your own time and money, it’s not a real thing.
NYLP: And the hours are longer than what you’re probably working at at your other job?
Brian: Yeah. It’s just different because it never really goes off. You have the freedom to do whatever you want and that nobody’s going to fire you and you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck, but it’s always on…summer weekends, July 4th, the website’s crashing because, the person who built it didn’t know what they were doing. You’ve got to deal with that because nobody else is going to worry about it.
NYLP: And has there been anything from your previous experience that has helped you navigate a problem or a situation that you really look back on and say “If I didn’t have this, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Brian: Everything. I’ve been fortunate to work for some amazing companies for and with some really smart people. And, I think there’s experiences across the board. I think dealing with organizational complexity, figuring out how to get stuff done in organizations where everybody is really taxed and you’ve got to advance your agenda…usually at the expense of somebody else’s. Dealing with politics, company politics, training and mentoring team, recruiting people, selling, speaking, articulating, strategy, all that stuff. You have aspects of that in all your jobs, things that you learn, it’s not that how to do a financial model in business school, that is what you apply.
But it’s the vocabulary that you learned in doing that is applicable and then a lot of the other stuff that we everyone used to laugh at like “Oh this is soft,” like the negotiation class or the strategy class or things that nobody really valued or that retail class where they brought in speakers, everyone from Howard Schultz to hot start-up du jour that everyone thought was like a like a throw away class. Those really ended up being the most valuable lessons of classes to have.
NYLP: What’s been the toughest situation you have navigated?
Brian: I think fundraising is tough. And the reason why it’s tough is because you believe so deeply in what you’re doing and no matter who you are and no matter how hot your company is you’ve got to get very comfortable very fast walking into meeting after meeting after meeting where people basically tell you that I don’t want to invest in your company. And a lot of that doesn’t really even have to do with your company but you still don’t believe it, you still have a hard time not taking it personally. So that’s something that now I feel like, I’ve got the scars to navigate that and not get upset but that was really hard.
NYLP: How many employees do you have?
Brian: We have 20 people. Almost doubled in the last…we have about doubled in the last, 14, 16 months, which is still relatively lean.
NYLP: Are you profitable?
Brian: We’re hoping to be there towards the end of this year. That’s our plan. And again, I would say that is something that would set us apart from the pack because I think a lot of the direct to digitally native companies, there haven’t been many cases where companies have achieved profitability at scale. I mean, you can do it and we can turn it off and we can be profitable tomorrow, but being able to grow at a fast pace which, in our case means doubling or more than doubling every year…
NYLP: That’s incredible.
Brian: And also be profitable which would mean that the scale really is starting to play out, that would be a really unique situation and put us into a real position of strength as we thought about the next phases of growth.
NYLP: Are the sales seasonal at all?
Brian: You start to see a little bit more the bigger you get but we generally see growth, happening. The first quarter will be bigger than the fourth quarter which, traditionally would be like what, first quarter is awful, fourth quarter is great. We’re still small enough and we’re still growing fast enough to where, , the growth kind of washes out the seasonality but you see it. We have product launches, things that happen that affect our rate of growth, our seasonality, it clouds the seasonality a bit. But It will catch up to us.
NYLP: What’s your biggest opportunity for growth?
Brian: Well, right now we’re largely a single distribution channel, so there is opportunity in other channels if we decide to pursue those. We have a specific point of view on what we like and what we don’t like. Traditional department store setup wouldn’t be good for us, would be counter to the brand but there are instances where we could be there in a way that isn’t. For instance, if we have a fixture or a shop in shop or a kiosk or something in there.
So that’s an opportunity, in terms of marketing and distribution, marketing channels, there’s channels that are huge, channels that we haven’t tapped yet. Out of Home is just an example. Direct Mail is another example where we’re just in the very early stages of testing there. So those are opportunities and there’s always product expansion as well and market expansion… product expansion being additional categories which we’re always trying to be very mindful of to not over diversify.
And market as, you know, the big kind of opportunity would be international and how do we want to think about that because, obviously our products are applicable everywhere and there’s a huge appetite for what we sell in Western Europe and other parts of the world.
NYLP: You talked about future distribution channels but how do you come up with the pricing now?
Brian: One of the things we were very deliberate about when we started was that we did not want to have a promotional strategy whatsoever. Because the minute you do that you train the customer to just wait around for sales and everything else you say…really they have blindness towards just looking for how big the discount this. And this category in particular because of the flash sale sites Fab, Gilt, and all the rest, you know, basically this was a huge category for them and for men in particular. They would get a bunch of Calvin Klein underwear and put it on deep discount so what we did to mitigate that was ever since we’ve launched we’ve had a volume based pricing model.
So as you spend money with us you increase your card size you can save 10%, 15%, up to 20% on any given order. So that enables us to like take that totally off the table and make sure that all of our communication with customers about stuff that they actually care about like new product innovations, something interesting, time of year whatever. So that’s something that we spend. And so I think that for us that’s been a major differentiator and one of the things that I’m probably most proud of the last year is that our holiday sales for this year were up close to 3X year over year and we didn’t have any sort of sale whatsoever. And when you look around at the amount of noise that’s happening on Black Friday and Cyber Monday… The only reason that those two days exist if for a deal. So for us to have that level of growth without any kind of promotional strategy is just I think insane.
NYLP: I’m glad you brought up the pricing because going on the website and buying my orange underwear, the website is so well designed. And then when you are shopping you see a bar going across the top of the screen seeing how far you can get to the discount. That’s a fun idea.
Brian: Yeah. I’m glad you noticed that. Because we had some internal arguments about whether or not people actually see that, whether we’re actually getting credit for that, so I’m glad that you saw it, we’re looking for ways to better integrate that into the customer experience. So that people know if you had one more sock or more pair to your drawer, you’re actually going to save. It creates a little bit of interactivity but also it clarifies the value proposition of adding more stuff to the card and more deeply engaging with us.
NYLP: Well, it makes the website part of an experience and then the website is also incredibly designed. It’s just such a clean well-designed website that I don’t really see on the internet that often.
Brian: Well that means a lot because we spent a lot of time. We spent a lot of time building it, we spent a lot of time optimizing it, we’re continually optimizing it, looking at conversion rates, user flows, all that. We’re similarly crazy about that as we are about the actual physical product.
NYLP: That’s a good note to end things on
Thank you very much for stepping on to the “New York Launch Pod” Brian, and sharing your time with us. How do people find out more about you and Mack Weldon?
Brian: You can find us at mackweldon.com, M-A-C-K-W-E-L-D-O-N dot com https://www.mackweldon.com/. And use offer code, NYLAUNCH, for 20% off your first order.
NYLP: Twenty percent off!
Brian: Twenty percent off. It’s a big thank you, for having us. You know, these are great ways for us to expose the brand or the story to customers. You can follow us on Twitter, @mackweldon, Facebook, Mack Weldon Underwear, and me, @bberger3 is Twitter. Not that interesting. Consider yourself warned.
NYLP: If we follow you on Instagram, do we see a lot of guys in their underwear?
Brian: You know, everything we do is really meant to be very tasteful and elevated so I think if you looked at our feed, you’d find a lot of fun, active, irreverent, smart images and copy that goes along with it.
NYLP: And what’s the Instagram?
NYLP: Well, Brian, again, thank you very much for stepping on to the New York Launch Pod and sharing your time with us. If you want to learn more about the New York Launch Pod, you can follow us on social media @NYLaunchPod, visit us at nylaunchpod.com for transcripts including a transcript of this episode. And if you leave a review on iTunes, it will be greatly appreciated and it does help get the word out. So thank you again for listening and tune in next time.