This is a follow up story for Outlaw. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Howdy and thanks for having me back! I’m still Danielle Vincent, the Boss of a little good-smelling gang called Outlaw.
- Founded by Danielle & Russ Vincent (married) in 2013
- Approximate startup cost: <$20
- Revenue 12 months trailing: $2.5M
- 14 employees
Outlaw makes personal care and home fragrance for people who want to smell like campfire, whiskey, leather, and the great outdoors. Our customers are people who love adventure and generally reject a couch-bound life… and, as you know, these are challenging times for people who don’t love staying home on their couches!
Our best-selling scent is Blazing Saddles, which smells like leather, gunpowder, sandalwood, and sagebrush. It comes in solid cologne, spray cologne, handmade soap, milled soap, lotion, body wash, and deodorant. Our second best-selling scent is Fire in the Hole, which smells like campfire, gunpowder, whiskey, and sagebrush. Fire in the Hole is also available across the full product line-up listed above. Those two scents account for nearly half of our total revenue.
The rest of our Western-inspired scents are The Gambler (whiskey, tobacco, and leather), Calamity Jane (clove, orange, cinnamon, and whiskey), Mountain Hideout (pine trees, pinecones, and damp earth), Home on the Range (fresh laundry, mown grass, and blackberries), and Lust in the Dust (sagebrush, sandalwood, and campfire). Later this year, we’re also launching Cursed Cowboy, which smells like clove and campfire, across all those product types. It had been a seasonal soap, but people loved it so much we decided to make it a regular addition to the Outlaw line-up.
As you can see (and if you decide to order, as you can smell), these aren’t traditional scents. Some people think they’re more masculine, but we believe everyone should feel free to smell amazing. As a female founder, I have personally invented many of these scents, and wear them every day. Smelling like a cowboy fresh from a gunfight really boosts my confidence on days I’m feeling tired and small (which is more often than you’d think).
My husband Russ and I started this business in 2013 with almost zero money and bootstrapped it almost entirely from profits, crowdfunding, and ill-gotten loans (and even some legitimate loans). We grew at a pretty respectable 20% - 30% per year until 2019 when we arranged a Board of Directors and raised $40K, which helped us grow 320% and get to our first million ($1.2M to be more exact).
This year, we’re on track for $4M in revenue and just raised nearly $1.5M in our first official priced fundraising round (which is where investors buy a preferred stock based on an agreed-upon “value” of our business).
Raising money was a real challenge, and one I’m happy to talk about openly. I get a lot of questions, so I thought I’d share my experience here on Starter Story in hopes that it’ll help some people keep the faith and find their tribe.
Oh, and we re-branded our whole company from Outlaw Soaps to just Outlaw and changed our domain from OutlawSoaps.com to LiveOutlaw.com. That was a real adventure… but a necessary one. 40% of our sales revenue comes from cologne, so calling ourselves “Outlaw Soaps” was a little absurd. We secured the trademark for “Outlaw” in the 003 (Personal Care) category and undertook the arduous process of changing our packaging and updating all our links.
Screenshot from a meeting where we were discussing new box designs. I was envisioning a box that could also be used as a hat
And as if all that wasn’t enough, we moved from Grass Valley, California, to Sparks, Nevada (near Reno). Last year, rolling power outages compromised our ability to meet our production demands. After literally relocating our fulfillment operation to a Motel 6 for a week, and then filling orders by emergency light whenever the electricity went off, we decided to pull up our roots and rent a huge warehouse (4x the size!) in Sparks.
Because of the pandemic and supply chain issues, we decided to make lemonade out of a plastic bottle shortage and we switched to aluminum bottles, which are recyclable and more aligned with the environmentally-conscious business we are striving to operate.
So, really, there are lots to cover. But because I want to be helpful, and Starter Story’s about helping founders through shared experiences, I wanted to talk about the most common business denominator: MONEY.
Me and Russ attempting to play a holiday ballad on a totally ruined guitar (it didn’t sound good at all). Photo credit: Arlette Thibodeau
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
This year, um, perhaps you noticed there’s a pandemic. So, that’s happening. And a ton of other stuff happened that I covered in the intro, but most of those are stories for another post (hey Pat - are you doing a podcast? Let’s do a podcast!).
Despite that, we managed to grow 230% year-over-year.
When the pandemic hit, I went into an existential panic. We had just signed a lease that required very aggressive growth for us to be able to pay rent and hired a whole staff of folks to support that aggressive growth.
And in about a one-week span, it appeared the economy would completely implode, our supply chain became a mad grab, and since we had just moved, we were strapped for cash and out of inventory.
It was looking like a very cold, dark Spring indeed.
Rob, our VP of Customer Experience, and I went through a very intensive cost-cutting project where we eliminated pretty much everything that wasn’t nailed down. I laid off our Web Producer (who also managed our social media) and decided to just do all that work myself (which sucked). She was a personal friend of mine. It was awful.
We went through the bank and credit card statements with highlighters and decided things were “critical,” “eliminated,” or “to investigate.” And then we eliminated almost everything that was marked as “to investigate,” too.
I drew down a borderline unfavorable loan for $250K because everything might fall apart. Russ and I personally guaranteed that loan.
It was all on the line.
And then I attended a webinar that changed my perspective. The host kept repeating this crazy concept about how this was a good time to build market share. I was like, “What? Who is buying?”
But then I realized that this is our time, and we are the people.
As I mentioned earlier, our customers are adventurers… but all adventure was suspended indefinitely. And our products help people remember who they are at their best -- and help them be their best no matter what the hell’s going on around them. You know, like a freakin’ pandemic.
And once I realized that this is our time, and we are the people, we started making better business decisions. We re-launched our subscription box program to include what we imagined would be exactly what customers need in this challenging time.
This is from one of our Russian customers because Outlaws are worldwide
We didn’t know how long the pandemic would last, or how deep the economic impact would be, so we focused on shoring up our supply chain and ensuring we had products in a variety of prices, so even if the economy bucked like a bronco, the Outlaws would still be in the saddle.
“Sometimes the winner of the rodeo’s just the person who sits in the saddle the longest.” - Old Danielleism
I started putting more money into ads (I had laid off our agency in The Great Culling), and our website sales grew by 450%. Subscription sales surged with our new offerings. We launched solid cologne samples and milled soap samples so people who were buy-curious could give our scents a try! The samples took off, and we got lots of new folks sampling our wild kingdom.
It looked like our schemes might just be crazy enough to work, as they say in the movies.
And then the cow pies hit the turbine. Our general policy is to prioritize website sales, followed by existing wholesale accounts, then Amazon, and finally new wholesale. Since we were out of stock of so much stuff, we hadn’t sent inventory to Amazon. But Amazon, which made up about ⅓ of our revenue in 2019, started having issues receiving and fulfilling our products.
We applied for and received the SBA EIDL loan and the PPP loan. No kidding, that saved our business. This whole COVID-19 thing happened when we were at our most vulnerable, and I will be eternally grateful to the American taxpayers and the politicians who made it possible to stay in business. Since you may be an American taxpayer (or heck, a politician, I don’t know your life), let me take this opportunity to express my bottomless gratitude. Thank you so much. Our employees and customers as well.
The craziest thing is that during all this hullabaloo, I started the LAUNCH Accelerator and was actively pitching every week, and meeting with investors. Our numbers were still really fricken’ good since our website sales were absolutely exploding. Our overall growth was more than 230% during a pandemic.
And I think beyond just our growth, our responsiveness and our willingness to turn lemons into a whiskey sour impressed many of the investors.
Ow! I just pulled a muscle patting us on the back!
I’ll talk about the investor thing below, in the “What I learned” section, but we managed to close our funding round oversubscribed with the most amazing investors I could ever imagine.
But everything isn’t sunshine and roses. The shit is still spinning off of the Amazon fan, since our Amazon sales rank still hasn’t recovered completely. We have to spend TONS of money just to keep parity with where we were last year, and that sucks. It’s not sustainable, so we’re going to have to figure out what we’re doing there.
Some stuff with our Facebook Ads caused our CPA to hike up (here’s an article, if you’re interested), and we’re technically exempt from that law, but it took us a while to respond.
Because of that, I’ve enlisted a new ad agency to manage our Facebook and Google ads. I realized that the amount of time I lost between the time the law went into effect and the time I reacted probably cost us tens of thousands of dollars and hiring an agency would be worth much more than it cost.
Q3 was our best quarter to date, and we hope that Q4 will be twice as good. It’s a big goal… speaking of, would you like to buy some incredible cologne, body wash, or whatnot that smells like everything from the cowboys of the Wild West to a peaceful day in an endless Summer vacation? If every reader buys just one thing, we’ll make our quarter! [cough] I have to ask. It’s been a weird year.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
One of the most frequent topics of conversations these days is about our first real priced round of funding from strangers. People want to know why we raised money after running off of profits and catch-as-catch-can loans.
I mean, we’ve been slogging along since 2013 (you can read our first Starter Story interview from 2018 where I talk about our humble beginnings), and have survived where most (sane) people would have thrown in the towel.
But I’m tired. I’m tired of the slog. I’m tired of losing sleep trying to figure out how to fund 300% growth. I’m tired of underpaying people and only being able to hire people who will accept sub-standard pay… most of these people are green, which means that I have to train them, which means they don’t come to our company with diverse sets of experience and information. Yeah, we’ve gotten really lucky with many of the folks we currently have on our crew… but most of them hadn’t done what they’re doing before we hired them and trained them to do it.
Since we have proven product-market fit, there’s no reason for us to slog. We can fund the products that have proven demand from fanatical customers. We can invest in diverse, experienced talent who can help us reach more customers and serve them better.
This customer even made some art out of our logo! (we’re honored!)
Raising money has been a really long and challenging road. All told, it probably took us about 18 months.
About 2.5% of all venture funds go to companies with a woman founder or co-founder, and most venture funds are focused on tech companies. Not only that, most investors aren’t in our target market (broadly, the psychographics of “adventurers” - outdoors enthusiasts, military, truck drivers, first responders, motorcycle riders, etc - it’s about 8% of the population, but the Venn Diagram of our psychographic and investors are two circles touching at three molecules) so they think our products are a gag gift at best, and revolting at worst.
The idea that someone would voluntarily smell like the scents they’re rushing to wash off (campfire, whiskey, and clove, to name a few) was just lunacy too many of them.
In gambling terms, other companies are playing with a stacked deck and weighted dice, and we’re a couple of yokels with no investor network at all, a pocket full of nickels, and some big, crazy ambitions.
Because we’ve got a lot of helpful friends, we got tons of advice on how to make a good investor presentation, and although I am grateful for most of the advice we got, a lot of it turned out to be not all that helpful.
What didn’t work:
- Refining my pitch deck over and over without any investors actually seeing it
- Investing hundreds of dollars in a professional designer to touch it up
- Waiting for people to make introductions
- Jealously reviewing other fundraising deals that I interpreted as much less favorable than what we had to offer
- Cold emailing strangers (though I did meet a dear friend and mentor that way)
- Crying bitterly in the shower
What did work:
- Joining the LAUNCH Accelerator and getting my pitch in front of hundreds of investors over 12 weeks
- Bold charts showing clear growth (320% year-over-year growth and a 3x subscriber growth in 6 months raised some eyebrows)
- Pitching over and over, and refining my pitch so thoroughly that I could recite it to myself in the shower (in other words, stop crying bitterly and start rehearsing!)
- Warm introductions from a reputable investment group (LAUNCH does introductions as part of the accelerator)
- Taking every opportunity to meet with anyone who would meet with me, no matter how unlikely their investment was (these led to other introductions, which led to other introductions, which led to investments)
- Getting very comfortable with Zoom
- Calling in every favor, and helping every person I could
- Thinking BIG, no, BIGGER. Figuring out a game plan for Outlaw to take over the world.
And ultimately, we ended up raising the million we wanted, and then some. We nearly reached our $1.5M cap! And we’re so excited to take our company to the next level. I’m so excited not to slog anymore.
The people who decided to invest in Outlaw are just amazing. Beyond the money, the set of skills and the amount of support is … I mean, I can’t even. We found our people, and I am so glad.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
The same thing we do every year, Pinky: Try and take over the world! (how’s that for a throw-back?)
Now that I’m not spending ¾ of every day raising money, we’re going to execute all the projects I only dreamed of. And I can’t tell you about them, since they’re super-duper extra mega secret… but I can tell you that it’s going to be unlike anything y’all have ever seen before.
If you really want to know, I have a terrible habit of telling our corporate secrets every Friday on our Facebook Live. It’s truly a liability. Last week, Russ had to actually cut me off before I talked about our new spray cologne boxes. And, here I go again.
Ok, I have to be quiet now.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Right now, I’m listening to Radiolab’s in-depth report on Dolly Parton’s America. It’s not a business book, but she’s a hell of a business person, and it’s inspiring. I think we could all use a little Dolly in our lives. I’m getting a “What would Dolly do?” tattoo as soon as I can arrange it.
The Gambler, by William C. Rempel, is the story of Kirk Kerkorian, the man behind much of the development of Las Vegas as the entertainment leisure capital of the world. Not only was he a brilliant strategist and a taker of great gambles, but he was also a fantastic human being. Because it turns out, not everyone has to be a mercurial jerk to succeed in the world.
The Fish That Ate the Whale, by Rich Cohen, is the story of Sam Zemurray, the man behind the popularity of bananas. Unlike Kirk Kerkorian, he was… “complicated.” But still, all told, he was an incredible dealmaker and strategist, and also a fantastic human being, but just in a different way. And it helped me to realize that some things are not personal, they’re just business.
The Ride of a Lifetime, by Robert Iger, is the autobiography from Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney. And WHOA, what an autobiography. Iger is measured, personable, ethical, and well-reasoned. Listening to it helped me think of what kind of leader I need to ultimately become as Outlaw grows.
And I’m re-reading The Effective Executive (Drucker) and How to Win Friends and Influence People (Carnegie), as I do pretty much every year. They’re timeless, mandatory reading.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Think of what your ideal customer needs, and figure out how you can meet that need. These are complicated times, and people need more than they’ve ever needed before. Be there for them.
Be a unifier. What would Dolly Parton do?
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yeah! We’re hiring a Product Manager! We need someone who can dance the line between “amazing Swiss Army Knife” and “brilliant strategist.” I know it’s a tall order, but I don’t care. I know the right person out there just aching to join a little rambunctious band of Outlaws.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: Outlaw - Live Outlaw
- Facebook - every Friday at noon, PST, we do a fun Facebook Live video. I did one fully clothed full bath two weeks ago. I ate our products for one week. It’s always a good time (for the viewer our soap tastes awful)
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Outlaw has provided an update on their business!
12 months ago, we followed up with Outlaw to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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