Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Braxton Manley and I am a 23-year-old living in Austin. I started Braxley Bands with my dorm-mate Grant Andrews as a class project at Texas Tech about 3 years ago.
We created an elastic Apple Watch band and started making them by hand on my Nana’s sewing machine. We have since scaled the business from an original $20 upfront for materials to $100K a month on Shopify. No other capital or investment was ever put into the business.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have always had a fascination with art and style. I've also always loved creating things in many different formats. The idea for Braxley Bands started because of a personal desire for a more comfortable Watch band option and the need to come up with a project idea for my marketing class. My band at the time was the original band Apple included which is made from cheap-feeling plastic. Furthermore, the only options out there at the time were very plain solid colored designs. I wanted to jazz it up.
I had absolutely no background in anything related to business when I got started aside from me being a Junior marketing major. While I did learn some foundational stuff in business school, most everything eCommerce related was learned either from podcasts, books, people on social media, or mentors.
We didn’t have a big budget at all when we were getting started because we didn’t want to take an investor. That way we could play by our own rules. Also, who would ever give us money? So we had to learn everything ourselves. Everything from accounting to photoshop to supply chain management.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
What I think is especially unique about us is that we literally only put about $20 into this and that is the only money that was ever invested to this day.
We bought elastic and Apple Watch adapters online and then hand-stitched them. Later on, my partner Grant happened to have taken a sewing class in high school (Most likely to meet girls) so he actually knew his way around the machine my Nana gave us to use.
We would stitch the bands ourselves until we absolutely did not have another minute to spare. Some nights staying up past 4am with classes and tests the next morning.
Our first Black Friday was particularly interesting because we were at home for Thanksgiving break with our families while we began to see a flood of orders come in after we released a "Buy 2 Get 1 Free" promo. We were freaking out because we had no clue how we were going to be able to find the time to stitch all the bands/ fill all the orders as soon as we got back. I'll never forget on the morning of Cyber Monday, Grant called me warning me not to send out a Cyber Monday email because there'd be no way we could produce a single other band... about 5 seconds after I'd sent the email. Whoops.
About a year into the venture we finally outsourced production to a real factory in my hometown of Austin. It was great up until we ran into quality issues and long turnaround times. We would still hand package (On wooden grilling planks + rubber bands) and ship out everything ourselves. When we needed extra help we would pay our friends $10/hr for extra hands on deck. Those were some of the most fun nights in college we ever had.
The bands are now made in Hong Kong in PO’s of about 20,000 units. Fulfillment is done in a 3PL warehouse in Dallas. Establishing this was not easy and took about a year. The tough lesson learned there was to be patient and ways go through an intensive product sampling process before proceeding with a full order.
I recommend the best way to begin getting a product developed is to go through a ‘middleman’ in America. They take a small but it is well worth it just off time and travel savings alone. There's a company in Austin named Gembah and they are good guys.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We leveraged the fact that we were students to get exposure by using it for class projects (We were studying business/marketing and many of our class projects were centered around business development projects).
Texas Tech was amazing to us because they legit supported us in so many ways. They gave us free 24/7 office space as well as exposure in the school news, etc.
This is sort of how we scaled everything from $20:
- Cash on hand: $20 (Spring 2017) - Bought materials for ~10 bands and sold them to our friends for $20 cash/Venmo.
- Cash on hand: $200 - Built a basic Wix website and ~50 bands worth of material + shipping materials.
- Cash on hand: $1,000 - Filed an LLC and began growing an Instagram audience through ads and follower gaining services like falcon.io.
- Cash on hand: $10,000 - Outsourced production from in house and by hand to a manufacturer in Austin. Began running ads on FB and Instagram.
- Cash on hand: $50,000 (Fall 2018, About 1.5 years post launch) - Started paying ourselves a small salary and outsourced production overseas. Transferred to Shopify and Bronto as an email service provider.
The biggest lessons learned were to be curious and steadfast. Always be learning. Timely is better than perfect. And you can’t expect results overnight. Be radically transparent with company members. Experiment with everything.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Driving traffic to the site but with an emphasis on capturing emails and encouraging them to follow our Instagram. We put a lot of effort into engaging with our customers and turning it into a community. For example, we held a Halloween costume contest and got some incredible submissions!
We try to promote the functionality of our product in the copy and use high-quality photos so that they understand the fashion-forward style of it as well.
We also cycle out designs seasonally and promote them as limited edition to encourage repeat buyers who want to change out their band with every outfit.
Our bands often sell out and this has built 'hype' around our restocks and new collections. On our last restock a girl told us she was setting her alarm early on a Saturday morning just so she could make sure she got to the website in time.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We just had our highest earning month ever in October by about 36% (12/19/19 UPDATE: this month we have already beat October by 60% and are on track to do over 200K) and it is largely due to us improving on all of our branding and marketing efforts as well as consistently reinvesting in more and more product. The largest inhibiting growth factor in this business has been producing enough product across all sizes. We have many SKU’s and it is not easy to forecast the needed inventory accurately.
It’s really important for us to have a high LTV and AOV. We want to build a lifestyle brand around this as establish real 'fans' of what we are doing. Our conversion rate generally hangs out around a 5 when we have a full inventory and a 2 when we get low on stock.
We have around 90k email subscribers and 34k Instagram followers.
100% of our sales are through our online store.
If an ad we are running performs below a 3x ROAS we consider it a failed ad. On a good ad, we will hit around a 8x ROAS.
Our short term goal is to continue our revenue growth past the holiday season and into the new year.
Our long term goal is to optimize bottom-line revenue and build the business around our best lifestyle possible. (No stress, no jobs we don’t want to do, cool 'business trips' etc).
I will consider selling the company once it reaches a valuation over 10 million.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
In this industry, there is rarely a need to ever meet with anyone in person or pay for office space. Working remotely is the future and it has allowed us more personal freedom, the ability to spend less on overhead, and ultimately grow the business quicker. We have never met in person with any of our ad buyers, supply chain managers/ middlemen, customer service reps, etc.
My partner Grant and I generally try to see each other about once a month as an excuse to travel to new places and use some of our AMEX reward points.
Which brings me to a big one… START COLLECTING CREDIT CARD POINTS. We have AMEX Platinum and Gold and it is so awesome. We travel for free and get to use airport lounges anywhere we go. I also got a free year of global access to WeWork just for signing up (May have been a limited promotion). Countless other benefits too. Make sure you are spending on the right card.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
All the things I will list here are recommendations because if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t use it. Shopify is great. We bought a premium template and then hired a freelance web developer to make small periodical tweaks for us. We run our emails on Bronto. LiveRecover is an amazing abandoned cart recovery tool at leverages SMS and real humans we have over a 20% recovery rate, which when compared to our emails, is about 5x more effective. We use Bazaarvoice as a review platform. Our fulfillment is done through a 3PL warehouse in Dallas.
Generally, we try to hire small companies/ freelancers over firms (Especially with digital ads and SEO). It’s a better value and they are easier to work with IMO. My partner and I constantly update a google doc that functions as both a personal and business to-do list along with things like goals and personal habits we want to build. For remote founders, it's important to check in on eachother when it comes to physical and mental health. Set goals for eachother both in business and personal lives.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
It’s important to make all the media you consume relevant to your business mission. For instance, my Instagram is mostly filled with mentors and similar brands so that I can study what they are doing. Podcasts are free gold. I especially recommend The Unofficial Shopify Podcast there’s so much advanced and hyper-relevant information.
Follow all the DTC bloggers on Twitter to stay up to date with the industry and what current trends are (@Webb). If you are completely new to this, start with The Four Hour Work Week book by Tim Ferriss. It was my bible when I was starting out.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Focus on making your personal life as optimized, balanced and happy as it can be. Being rich won’t make you happy but being happy might make you rich.
Prioritize your health and nutrition first and you will have more energy, more creativity, look/feel better and have a higher functioning brain. All the things you need to be successful in business. Don’t listen to all the BS ‘hustle culture’. Get 7+ hours of sleep. Go outside and play. Be curious about other things. Listen to your body/mind they work together. Mental health is physical health.
Also, sometimes delegating tasks to other people can take up more of your time and money than if you were to just do it yourself. If you do it yourself you’re investing in new skills that you can use later on. (e.g., learning FB marketing, photoshop, editing, etc).
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
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Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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