| September 6, 2014

Entrepreneurship, Money & Career, Podcast

Art of Manliness Podcast #80: Starting Huckberry With Andy Forch & Richard Greiner

Today I talk with Andy Forch and Richard Greiner, the co-founders of the men’s online store Huckberry. If you’re a business owner or have thought about starting your own business, this podcast is for you. I ask Andy and Rich to share how they bootstrapped a business they started in their apartment and turned it into one of the largest men’s e-commerce stores on the web. As a business that’s in the business of curating men’s lifestyle products, Andy and Rich have seen firsthand what separates a successful men’s product from an unsuccessful one, and what you can do to stand out from the increasingly crowded market of  “artisanal” men’s products.

Show Highlights

  • Where the idea for Huckberry came from
  • How long it took Andy and Richard to turn their idea into an actual business
  • How do you start an e-commerce biz when you don’t know anything about retail
  • What it’s like to go from working from your apartment to having an office and a warehouse and over a dozen employees in four years
  • How they scored their first big brand to be in their store
  • Why Andy and Richard chose not to get venture capital and to just bootstrap their biz (and why they continue to refuse offers from investors today)
  • Why you probably shouldn’t try to start that artisanal men’s leather goods business
  • And much more!

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. So if you’ve been visiting the site for the past few years, you’re probably familiar with the company called Huckberry. It’s an online e-commerce store company that sells products and gears directed towards men who happened to like doing sort of outdoor adventure stuff. We do a weekly give away with them. We do a curated shop with them, that’s on holidays and at Father’s Day. We’re an affiliate of them. We’re business partners and on a certain time you can make a purchase through our Huckberry link we will make small percentage from that and that helps support the website and everything that goes along with it.

Anyways, I wanted to bring on the two Co-Founders of Huckberry to share their story of how they started Huckberry, because it’s a really cool story of a successful bootstrapped startup. Andy Forch, Richard Greiner, they started Huckberry when they were relatively young, mid-20s, out of their apartment and now it’s grown into this large business in about four or five years where they have an office and a warehouse and they’re employing over a dozen different people to do their job to fulfill their sales. So I wanted to get them on to share their story of how they started their successful business, because I know a lot of you listening to the podcast are wanting to do that, become entrepreneur, start your own business. So I wanted to have Andy and Richard share their story and their insights and their mistakes they made along in the way so you can get something from it.

Also I wanted to get their insights about something. I get stuffs sent to me all the time from brands and people who’re wanting to start some sort of male lifestyle product, brand or whatever and Huckberry gets that 100 times more. And I wanted to get Richard and Andy’s insight on what separates the winners and losers from companies or brands wanting to sell a product that’s directed towards men. So if you’ve had sort of an idea kicking around and starting a men’s lifestyle product, brand or whatever, you want to listen to this because you will get some really good insights I think from some people who know firsthand on what makes a successful brand or product.

Anyways, it’s really fascinating, it’s all that entrepreneurship, all about being – starting a successful business. I think that that’s something you want to do. You’re going to get a lot out of this podcast, so let’s do this.

All right, Richard and Andy welcome to the show.

Andy Forch: Thanks Brett, pleasure to be with you Brett.

Richard Greiner: Likewise, thanks Brett.

Brett McKay: All right, just so we know who I’m talking to. Can you be like hey this is Andy and – or hey this is Richard.

Andy Forch: So this is Andy and Richard has the radio voice. So there is really no mistaking the two of us.

Richard Greiner: Yeah. Hey Brett, Richard here and I would say the TV anchor face, so…

Brett McKay: All right. So you guys are the Founders of Huckberry and if you have been reading the site for a few years, you guys know who Huckberry is… we do a give away with them every week. We’ve been a partner with them for a while back. So I’m really excited to have you guys on the show to talk about how Huckberry started, talking about being entrepreneurs, talk about the war stories of starting your own business in the men’s lifestyle genre. And maybe get some cool insights about this really cool company that you guys started.

Andy Forch: Yeah, absolutely.

Richard Greiner: It’s good.

Brett McKay: All right. So let’s see a little background on you, because you guys are young guys relatively speaking. What did you guys do before Huckberry? How old are you? Why did you start Huckberry?

Richard Greiner: Yep Brett, Richard here. So I was just telling somebody that started about this earlier today and Andy and I followed very identical life paths. We both went to school on the East Coast, I went to Villanova, Andy went to UVA. We both graduated in 2007 and we’re sort of funneled to New York City as we’re both working in finance at that time which at that point in time was sort of still the hot day in the work.

And I actually got transferred out to San Francisco in I think March of 2008 and Andy got transferred out here in August of 2008. And didn’t know each other, same exact path and met at a mutual friend’s party out here and so we became good friends and we are active and outdoorsy. And we’re on a ski trip one time and you started throwing around ideas with your buddies and you’ve done it 100 times and you never think one of these will take hold and one of those ideas sort of took hold and I can let Andy kind of dive in a little bit more of the specifics here. But it was just one of those things where you’re messing around, you have some drinks one night and the next thing you know, you’re quitting your jobs to sort of dive in head first.

Andy Forch: Yeah. And just to peg you back on that Brett, its Andy speaking. One of the funny things that Richard and I figured after the fact is when I moved to San Francisco we lived on the same block. And before we met a party that one of our buddies hosted, I think it was around like Great White Sharks. He is like a Great White Shark photographer hosted a party, that’s when Rich and I met. We found out that we actually lived on the same block in New York and didn’t meet each other. So I mean we literally – we had pretty identical paths, just all the way through starting Huckberry and then now I like to joke I’m basically I have two marriages, I’m married to my wife and married to Richard, so life is converged even more.

Brett McKay: Do you guys argue like you’re married?

Andy Forch: Yeah.

Richard Greiner: That’s awesome.

Andy Forch: And honestly like I think just like you learn in marriage like learning how to resolve problems and how do you speak to each other and how do you reinforce each other like it’s just as important in a business partnership as it is in a marriage.

Brett McKay: So yeah, okay. You guys are in finance. How old where you at the time right before you guys started doing the Huckberry thing?

Andy Forch: I think we’re 25, 26.

Richard Greiner: Yeah.

Andy Forch: So we were pretty young. We had both been an analyst at investment banks. And after you sort of do your three days which feel like dog years, you have to figure out you want to sort of stay in the game and grind it out and build a career or not. And San Francisco is just so different from New York. I was staying in corporate housing – in sort of the same corporate housing where a lot of the y-combinator guys where like the first class or two. So I think founder of dropbox was in there, a bunch of other guys and the whole – the spirit of San Francisco was all around entrepreneurship and being sort of the finance guy or I will take a shot at you Brett, the lawyer day. You’re sort of the bud of many different – of many jokes and everyone celebrates entrepreneurship. So for us we kind of had to make a decision as far as kind of what path to go down and it just made it that much easier being out here, because everyone – all our friends were kind of supporting it. I think if we’re still in New York and had come up with an idea to start a business in an industry we had absolutely no experience in, we probably would have been laughed out of the room. But I think here, San Francisco, they sort of support that.

Brett McKay: Yeah. All right, so you guys sort of talking you guys met at a party sort of talk, then you became friends, just kind of share the common interest and outdoor stuff. So how did – I mean where did the idea of Huckberry come from? How did you guys generate this idea of we’re going to create this – well before we get there, for those who aren’t familiar with Huckberry, can you kind of just give the elevator pitch of what Huckberry is? Because sometimes it’s like it’s hard to explain like when people ask me like what’s Huckberry, I’m like it’s kind of explain to folks if unless they see it.

Richard Greiner: Yeah.

Andy Forch: Yeah. It is hard to explain. I think at our core we’re an online shop and journal for guys. The way I like to sort of explain it is we’re out there trying to find the next Patagonia before its Patagonia. These really cool merchant brands are doing great things; they’re doing it the right way. They’re creating great products as much as possible we love brands where they make the product here in the U.S. So that’s sort of the – kind of what boils down to I think the thing that Rich and I use to kind of steer the ship here is sort of our unofficial mission statement at which we probably put our heads together and make it official at some point and put a little more thought into it. But it’s basically to inspire more active adventurous and stylish lives and to do that through content and commerce.

Brett McKay: So you guys are sort of like curators in a lot in a sense?

Andy Forch: Yeah, absolutely. And I think for us like the real value that we provide with these brands are just being storytellers. They have such great stories to tell that makes our life really easy and just giving them sort of more reach across the country. And that’s sort of the genesis of Huckberry in many ways was that we saw all these really cool brands that had like cult followings in like San Francisco or New York or in the Midwest. And they’re just making great product and they just really didn’t have sort of distribution. And so we kind of saw the opportunity to get in there and highlight a lot of these brands and sure East Coast runs what everyone is doing on the West Coast and Rich is from the Midwest and so he knew about a bunch of brands, it was kind of plugged in there. So it really is at our core word discovery.

Brett McKay: Very cool. So you guys got this idea, you saw a need for curation or helping people get the word out about these really cool brands. How long did it take to take that idea and turn it into an actual business?

Richard Greiner: It’s a good question. Ultimately from sort of the day we quit our jobs and we’re able to fully commit to the idea until Huckberry was live, it was five or six months all in. I think we had figured out that general sort of business plan and what we are going to take in a couple of months and then from there it was sort of technical, building the website, figuring out all the logistics behind running an e-commerce business and that sort of thing that was part of the reason it took six months instead of two or three. And that was called a little over four years ago. So it’s interesting the world’s become much, much sort of simpler to get to start a brand or an e-commerce site. So I think realistically you can probably be three or four months, it took us six and that’s partially because of when we started and then also having pretty much zero technical knowledge and just figuring out things as we go along. So six months all in for us, we can probably do it less.

Brett McKay: All right. So you guys actually quit your jobs before you started getting into this heavy. Is that right?

Andy Forch: Yeah. You got to go all in. I think some people can kind of do it on the side, but you get to that point where you kind of have to burn the boats on the beach so to speak and just sort of dive balling it especially for something as involved as an e-commerce site. And particularly our model which our model isn’t make a shirt and sell it and just put another order for that shirt and sell the next Batch like the Huckberry site refreshes multiple times during the week and it’s just so involved that there is just no way we could have moonlighted the product.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I mean so okay, did you guys any experience in retail before this or did you thought like sort of learn on the fly?

Richard Greiner: We learned 100% on the fly.

Brett McKay: Wow!

Richard Greiner: So I think this – sort of taking a quick step back, one of the sort of genesis is on the customer or user side is that we didn’t think that any e-commerce or shopping sites really spoke to us. Very often the shopping sites are going to be for really high ends, $5,000 suit type people or sort of the really high end outdoor performance. I’m climbing Mt. Everest and sort of super technical. And Andy and I were sort of the everyday guys, the guys in the middle that just weren’t being properly served and weren’t being sort of spoken to from the commerce side. So that was really sort of a big part of it for us.

Andy Forch: And Brett to kind of peg you back on that, it’s funny in that. I think there are brands up there like Poler which I know you’re familiar with who basically sort of built their model around that like most people like up until like kind of the Poler movement I would sort of call it and there are bunch of other brands like Poler now. But it was all like Everest this, Everest that and like most guys are like I actually just want to like go into the backwoods and like go camping with my family this weekend or with my buddies. And so we definitely saw kind of the convergence of what we call like urban and outdoor that there are these brands out there that were really teller to guys who lived in the city or the suburbs but loved the outdoors.

And a funny story that we always like tell is Rich went to – I think was it SIA or Outdoor Retailer, one of these big outdoor tradeshows. Trying to go – signup all these brands and kind of sell them on Huckberry and he had no site. We didn’t have a site that was live. The only thing that we had was I picked a Photoshop for dummies book and I made some pretty slick business cards. So he is walking around to all these like big brands like Patagonia and the North Face, trying to get them signed up and just kind of getting laughed away.

And the one sort of relationship should give you more credit, I’m sure you developed more relationships than just one. But the one that was sort of meaningful was Benji, the Founder of Poler who at that point didn’t have any products on his site; he just had this heat bag. I think Richard exchanged a heat bag for one of his slick business cards and just kind of had like a similar viewpoint and it’s become one of our best relationships.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. So okay, so it sounds like you learned Photoshop on your own, because you guys do all the graphic stuff for Huckberry things and…

Andy Forch: Yeah. So the genesis of it was Rich and I had this idea, we love the gear, saw the opportunity, I had no experience in retail. Obviously we’re not technical founders either. And so we partnered with Richard’s…

Richard Greiner: Yeah, childhood friends, little brother, he was getting his computer science degree at Berkley.

Andy Forch: At Berkley, yeah.

Richard Greiner: So he moonlit with us and helped us sort of build out Huckberry 1.0, get the site off the ground and the perspective that we took was let’s get something nicely put together. But it’s more important to get the site launch, get products out there and start getting feedback from people, from people and from brands and suppliers which I think is one really big key for start up as an entrepreneur and which is this model that we live by and it’s called you always threw out your first pancake, so get cooking. And so it was really about getting a product out there, getting Huckberry started and then the feedback you get from your customers is infinitely more valuable than showing a website to your friends and advisors and getting feedback from them. So it was really about let’s get a pretty good product out there and get it launched and then kind of refine from there.

Andy Forch: And Brett, you know this like – so Rich and I kind of in are like finance group of friends. We’re sort of like one of the very few entrepreneurs, we get every sort of – I have an idea, can I talk about it, email that’s out there. And many of them are sort of in business school and the real world as we like to call it is just so different from business school where you’re in business school, you have an idea, you basically you pitch it to the class and it’s sort of a safe place, right. Like you’re pitching the business and you’re in an environment where the teachers are being paid to listen to and the students are being paid to listen to and the students are being paid to provide feedback.

And then you get into the real world and it’s like I remember when we were sort of pitching Huckberry to people, they just don’t even respond to the email. And so that really does show the importance of just like putting a product out there and letting people vote with their wallets and at some point you kind of have to stand on your own two feet.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. I love the pancake; you throw out your first pancake, that’s true. I threw out my first pancake.

Andy Forch: Yeah.

Brett McKay: And you guys, there is something I think a lot of people know as well is that you guys handle most of the shipping as well, right?

Andy Forch: Yep.

Richard Greiner: Yeah, we do which was – it first started off as Andy and I shipping out of our apartments which was – girlfriends and wives weren’t too happy about that one. But we basically had a schedule where that we knew the mail pickup was 5 O’clock in the afternoon and at 3 O’clock pencils down everybody and we started packing boxes and run them over to the post office before it closed for the nightly shipment. And it went from shipping five packages a day to 10 packages a day and now we’re shipping sometimes 1000s of packages a day.

Brett McKay: That’s crazy.

Richard Greiner: Yeah.

Brett McKay: And you guys have – I don’t know, you guys have upgraded since I last saw you.

Andy Forch: Yeah.

Brett McKay: But the last time when I was in San Francisco a few years ago and you’re like a garage, it was insane. It was just like packages everywhere and you’re like a team who handles. And that’s like someone who’s got – I just got started in e-commerce, I know like the shipping and fulfillment, that’s like – that’s really complex and complicated. A lot of people when they get in they want to start an online business where they’re selling a product. They think well that’s going to be easy, but it’s a lot more – it’s tricky, it’s hard.

Andy Forch: Yeah, it’s very tricky. And that’s one of the things that’s – one of the biggest challenges to growing a larger e-commerce business is – are figuring those sort of operational and fulfillment – figuring out those problems. And you don’t think about it, but once you go from shipping 10 packages a day to 100 packages a day, your customer service in balance will max and you have to start figuring that out. And then yeah, it really becomes quite challenging to figure out the logistics and operational side. But it’s something where if orders start coming in, you’re going to be – you’re going to figure it out. So it’s again learning sort of – learning by fire and throwing out that pancake as you grow.

Brett McKay: All right. So you guys – you said you started four years ago, so it was like 2010 you guys officially went to business.

Andy Forch: It was May 2011.

Brett McKay: May 2011?

Richard Greiner: Yeah. We quit our jobs in I think September or October of ‘10 and then…

Andy Forch: Launched the site in April 2011.

Richard Greiner: Yeah, April 7th.

Brett McKay: All right. So it was just you two at the beginning shipping stuff out your apartments. How big is your team now?

Richard Greiner: So we’ve got – I will call it about 16 of us in the office, maybe 17 depending on how you count part-time people and then another dozen or so that are working in our warehouse, so close to 30 people between sort of full-time and part-time and then warehouse staff.

Brett McKay: That’s crazy. Well that’s amazing, that’s phenomenal that you guys are got so big so fast. All right, I know early on guys that you didn’t guys take venture capital to start your business. And I know you guys are in San Francisco, you’re talking about the whole idea of entrepreneurship is really big in that area and a big part of that culture is like everyone wants venture capital, everybody wants their money for their start up. Why didn’t you guys make that decision not to take venture capital?

Andy Forch: I think Brett there are sort of a few things. When we were sort of standing on the ledge of whether to jump into this or not, I think one of the sites and blogs we read a lot and that we really subscribed to was 37signals, I guess their blog is called Signal vs. Noise. And the Founder Jason Fried, I sense written a few books, Rework, I think there is like one or two others. And he is just a huge fan of bootstrapping your business and I think it was sort of in our DNA and that like we graduated from school, went into a white-collar job. But I think we have a pretty like blue-collar mentality when it comes down to it and that we both love getting our hands dirty and kind of rolling up our sleeves and picking up Photoshop for dummies. That’s how we designed the site and just doing things really, really cheaply.

So I think that was sort of – and honestly that we are pretty lucky to choose a business model where we could sort of afford to do that and that like if you’re starting a button-down or a button-down t-shirt company and your sort of capital requirements for that. You have to pay money six months before you can actually – to buy the fabric and get it, cut in some and then you launch it to the public and your capital cycle is getting paid six months after you cut that first cheque. We were lucky in that. Starting in the beginning it was primarily sort of a presale model with our customers. So it’s a combination of wanting to kind of control our own destiny which is what bootstrapping allows you to do. Choosing a business that sort of allowed us to bootstrap and that was bootstrap friendly.

I think one of the things we say to every entrepreneur is like if you can – if you can afford to bootstrap your business, absolutely do it. We’re huge fans of it, but we also recognize that it’s one it’s not for every model, it’s not for every person and there are absolutely some tradeoffs in that. We definitely grow a lot slower than we could and part of that is just risk talent, but also if we raise money it would be kind of pedal to the metal. But I don’t know, it’s like I think in many ways is particularly on. You’re just trying to like find your nation and find your voice and find yourself and find the business. And I just think it was nice not raising venture capital and sort of being forced to just grow like crazy when maybe you’re not even growing the right business.

Brett McKay: Very interesting. And do you guys still get approached – I’m sure you guys get approached by people who want to stake in the business?

Andy Forch: Yeah, definitely.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I mean it’s so cool. I mean it’s a really cool model that you guys have gone. But it’s great you’ve maintained that control and have grown at your own pace. So you started in 2011 and at this time there were sort of sites like yours there were popping up like these sort of curated membership deal sites where you signup and every week there is like a new line up and you get some discounts like there is Gilt and I forgot some of the other ones, like this all seem to popup at the same time. And – so how did you guys set yourself apart from the pack? And I think you’ve kind of referenced it a little bit in your conversation, but how did – what did you guys do to make yourself different from all those other curated store sites?

Richard Greiner: Yeah. So I think there is a couple of things Brett. First half is from day-one of starting Huckberry we always wanted to sort of tell the story of our brand partners first. So we weren’t all about putting product in your face and just being pushy and product focus. We were about let’s go and find real cool people that are doing really cool things and making awesome products and leading with telling that story.

So I think our focus has always been story first and let’s sort of get behind why we love this brand or this product. And so that has really developed the story first and content approach to commerce. That has really developed overtime into a full-blown journal blog that gets great traffic and it’s sort of something that really separates us from most other commerce sites out there. So there is – that’s definitely a big part of it.

Andy Forch: And I think a few other ways we sort of differentiate ourselves early on, I think as time has gone on like we’ve definitely found our voice even more. I think we’ve got like more dialed in on like what exactly our edit is, what’s like a Huckberry brand, what’s the Huckberry way of saying that. And again it all kind of comes back to storytelling and really just trying to be a signal in sort of a market where there is a lot of noise, so a lot of these other shopping sites whether it’s members only or even just retail, a lot of these retailers they sort of lead with like the best deal. So they will call for a brand and will say hey like what can I buy for 70% of wholesale and they’re like oh well, we have some stuff from 2011 I couldn’t move that I could sell you for pennies on the dollar.

And our mentality is like hey let’s go and find the coolest brands and then let’s bring our readers like the absolute – like best selection from the coolest brand and then we don’t need to buy it 70% off wholesale, because we want – like we basically have two customers who want our brands come back to us and give us exclusive product and exclusive releases and collaborate it and then but we also want our customers to kind of get a great deal. So that’s why when you’re on Huckberry, it was typically 10% off, 15% off, but it’s the best price on the internet and it – we would argue it’s sort of the best product selection.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I mean that’s kind of what’s sold me on it eventually. That’s – and you kind of telling the story, it’s kind of funny. So like when you guys approached me back in I guess 2011 about hey you want to be an affiliate, help – work with us, I was like – I was getting inundated with like emails from people like hey I got this membership deal site and I was just like – my default answer became no and so I told you guys no.

Andy Forch: Yeah.

Richard Greiner: Yeah. Probably doing the ax give away with you actually.

Brett McKay: Yeah. But you guys were persistent and you finally got me on the phone and like you’re like were able to tell me like this is what – your vision like what you wanted to do. That was like – it’s sort of like outdoor stuff for like the guy who was in the suburbs of the cities and telling stories about how you can use this stuff to like go and live a life of adventure and like do cool stuff. And I was like okay, I will give it a try and since then it’s been a fantastic partnership.

Richard Greiner: Yeah, it certainly has Brett and I will – Andy and I remember the day very specifically when you did a nice write up about some of the different men’s shopping sites out. And you sort of mentioned Huckberry’s head above shoulders of the rest. That was definitely a big day for us to have your endorsement. One thing that we’ve really tried to do as we’ve grown and sort of figured out our path in the business life is like one thing you mentioned was being persistent, and then two finding people to partner with that are – you’re going to form a deep partnership – deep relationship with. Somebody that sort of sees the world through your lands and you – it just sort of makes sense like you would be friends outside of the internet world.

And so I think you are sort of very early on in that approach and that’s something we’ve just really maintained throughout our three and half, four years of being in business is trying to partner with people that just make a lot of sense and not going out there and partnering with everybody and trying to find, establish more meaningful, deeper partnerships.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I think that’s an important point to make, because there are a lot of young entrepreneurs who get this idea that it’s sort of just the numbers game, right like make as many phone calls, send as many emails and even if like the people you’re contacting like wouldn’t be a good fit for you, right?

Richard Greiner: Right.

Brett McKay: And I mean it’s just such a waste of time and instead yeah they were just focused and like actually find those people who would be – they would provide value to them and they would provide value to – they would value get from them, just be more effective.

Andy Forch: Yeah Brett, to this day I mean I know Rich and I sort of credit you with – it’s sort of our big break in many ways and just sincerely thankful of sort of the friendship and partnership that we’ve come up with. One thing I don’t know if I ever told you, I remember I was on my honeymoon in Brazil with my wife Kate and I remember kind of – I woke up in the middle of the night and was like answering Huckberry emails and just kind of like thinking about some of our growth plans. I remember just like writing a bunch of partners I thought made sense and then at the top of the list was you and I just circled and I was like man, we just have to make this happen like it’s such a great – just from like a value standpoint how we look at the world. It’s just such a great partnership and that’s probably why you got seven emails the next week and I would sort of caveat that by saying that I’m kidding and please don’t send Brett seven emails, it’s not the way to do it. But that was sort of the start of it.

Brett McKay: Yeah. It’s been a fantastic partnership and I loved working with you guys. And like we just said it’s like we’re friends outside of the internet which is awesome.

Andy Forch: Yeah.

Brett McKay: I was going to tell you guys speaking of like how big you’ve got, I saw a Huckberry adventure cap in the wild in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Andy Forch: Oh mine.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I went to go and get donuts with my kid and there is this guy sitting outside eating donuts, he is like a student here in Tulsa, he was wearing the Huckberry hat and I was like hey nice hat. And he is like – and he recognized me from the website, so yeah, I know you…

Andy Forch: Oh wow!

Brett McKay: It was cool though to see Huckberry hat in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Richard Greiner: Yeah. Brett, I have a similar story for you real quick. So you’re obviously familiar with GORUCK, we’ve done a couple of challenges. We host this sort of annual or semiannual party with them called War Stories and Beer where they come to our offices and we clear everything out and they have some of the GORUCK – what they call…

Brett McKay: Cadres.

Richard Greiner: Cadre’s and they give up – they go up there and they talk about experiences from their time at war and coming back to Huckberry or coming back to the United States and readjusting and everything. It’s just a – it’s a great night and you’re raising money for the wounded warriors and et cetera, et cetera. And so we hosted one of those about three months ago and this guy comes up to Andy and I and he goes oh, are you Andy and Richard and we started talking to him. And it turns out he was turned on to Huckberry through you way back in the day, two or three years ago through Huckberry who learned about GORUCK and has since done five or six challenges with them. And he flew out from Washington D.C. to come out to the GORUCK war stories at the Huckberry offices.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Richard Greiner: So it’s like a total – just one of those great evenings to hear that story.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. And I want to talk more about some of that stuff that you guys were doing, going beyond just retail and telling stories, because you guys are doing more than that, we’ll get that in a second. But let’s get to this first. So you guys are in this position now where you’re tastemakers, right. Brands, you used to be like you have to like go to the retail – what are they, conventions or whatever those things are called.

Andy Forch: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And try to like hey pitch your business to them, but now companies are coming to you, right and a few years ago it seemed like there was really a dearth of quality like products for men. But these days every time I turn around I see some new start up that’s turning out leather bags or journal covers or a canvas docket or like stuff made from wood or manly soap or what – I mean you guys know, you guys have seen this stuff. Do you think the market for these kind of products, is it saturating? And if there is a guy out there like I want to start some sort of male lifestyle product, what advice would you give that guy who is thinking about starting a business in that niche?

Andy Forch: Yeah. So Brett I think specifically I will sort of start with leather, because it seems like we see more leather products than anything else. The thing about leather is that it’s really easy to create a – let’s say a wallet business, design a really nice – a good looking wallet used right leather, maybe you contract out the work, maybe you do it yourself, put on the internet, post some pretty pictures and sell a few thousand. The problem is that can almost be sort of a false indicator, because it’s easy to create a leather business where you can sell a few thousand, it’s really tough to build like $1 million a year leather business or maybe it’s $500,000 a year. But – and that’s because the market is so saturated that there is this real desire and hunger for great leather products.

But building sort of a sustainable business outside of just kind of a pet project can be really tough and I think a lot of guys have maybe started selling stuff on Etsy and then kind of jumped in and found that it wasn’t sort of – the market wasn’t as robust or as supportive of their vision as they thought, so that’s just sort of one thing to keep an eye on. I think at the end of the day it all comes down to like viewpoint. There is just – my first boss said having a viewpoint in – like a distinct viewpoint is worth 20 IQ points and it’s something that I think we sort of engrained here at Huckberry like with the brand. When we’re sort of assessing a brand, it’s like it’s a crowded market, why this brand above anything else. Is it great value? Is there sort of a craftsmanship story? How authentic is sort of the brand?

And so the storytelling component of it which is the thing that we focus on and which is really what gets these brands in the door is the most important thing. So if you don’t have the viewpoint and you’re just doing something because you don’t want to – you don’t like your nine to five job and you’re just looking for an out, I think that can be like a pretty scary path to go down.

Brett McKay: Okay. I mean – but I mean what about – I mean guys you like – I mean with the leather thing, there is people who I think are really trying to sort of brand and they try to like they come up with a story, right about – they talk about sort of the catch words like American craftsmanship made in USA, like sort of those buzz words that are like artisanal. I mean there is a story there, but like how do you – I mean I guess how do you – if stories are what’s really important in commerce today, how do you come up with I guess the story that sets you apart?

Richard Greiner: It’s definitely a lot trickier now than it was three or four or five years ago. Things that we look for when we’re sort of evaluating in balance is going to be what did that person do before they went to leather. Like is there a story of why they got into it or were they working sort of around the peripherals of leather or any craftsmanship like why did they get involved? Was it just because they didn’t like their nine to five and they want to quit or is it a sort of a family tradition that’s been past down through the generations or is it – you grew up on a horse ranch and you worked with leather your whole life, right? So trying to find like what’s the real story behind somebody doing something or is it just I want to start a business, this is trendy right now, I’m going to get into American male leather products.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Richard Greiner: So that’s definitely like do you really have an angle or do you have something that like makes you really want to be doing it not just because it’s the trendy thing. So that’s definitely something like follow your passion in whatever you do and if you’re not passionate about what you do, you’re not going to be successful. And that’s one of the core things about Huckberry like we started Huckberry for us, because we didn’t think there was something out there that was speaking to us. And so make sure you’re passionate about what you do, because it is a pain in the butt at times, it’s wonderful at times, but it’s something that you have to really love to be able to be successful at.

Brett McKay: All right. So I’m sure – so yeah, okay, you guys see a lot of like upstart businesses, some last most of them don’t. What are the successful entrepreneurs doing that the not so successful ones are doing?

Andy Forch: They keep going. I mean you can start with that. Just keep going and keep the feet moving. And I think it’s sort of a combination of things. I think one, the successful ones are playing a long game like we’re a e-commerce retailer, but I think the secret sauce of the Huckberry brand is built on personal relationships, going to these tradeshows, getting out in the community, having face-to-face, developing relationships. So even though the customer has – like sees a experience online that’s feels digital, there is so much humanness behind it. And I think that’s been sort of one thing that has done wonders for us and I think for a lot of these brands that like if you’re a leather brand and you’re super passionate about what you’re doing and you’re out there kind of forging industry relationships, I think that really goes a long way.

So I think some of the unsuccessful ones sort of discount that and they sort of send those impersonal blast females, dear, dear Mr. Art of Manliness, didn’t even take the time to look up your name. I started a leather company, here is the price like let’s do a give away and they probably got your name wrong, right.

Brett McKay: Yeah, they would get my name wrong, Brent or like would call them Brad or whatever.

Andy Forch: And so it’s really – it’s the sniff test. It’s like are these guys playing the long game and so Rich kind of alluded to this earlier, but it really is like are they just kind of – you get the sense that they’re doing things the right way and after really in it for – they aren’t trying to sell for three months, but they’re in it because they think they’re going to be doing this five years from now. And I think those who have that sort of long-term vision, it’s sort of trickles down to the decisions they make each day and sort of how they build the brand, how they go about selling their product and so it’s how we’re going to…

Richard Greiner: And Brett just to hop in here real quick, for me and I’m going to share this as well, you have to be a doer. It’s all about action when you’re starting a company and just getting things going and trying and learning by mistakes. And you can’t over think things; you can’t make the best product out there. You have to really start doing. And so we look for someone that’s got a lot of initiative and that’s really just get – it’s so hungry to get going, you have to hold them back really and that sense of doing is really, really important especially at the early stage start up.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I think that’s a great point to make, because I feel like a lot of people have this idea that I have to have the perfect business plan before I can get started. And I have to like know everything about whatever it is I’m doing to – before I actually get started on something. But the thing is like the way you really learn how to run a business is just getting your hands dirty and that’s…

Andy Forch: Yeah.

Brett McKay: And yeah, it seems like my area where people want to – like always get – I’m always getting asked questions like how to start a successful blog and like they want to sit down and like they have all these questions and they never get started though. And it’s just like I’m just telling you just got to get started, just get something out there.

Richard Greiner: Brett, my sort of favorite or I just say one of my favorite quotes in entrepreneurship was actually by Mike Tyson and he said everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, right. And I think that’s sort of – that’s a great way to look at it. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face and you just – you have to get out there and see whether you can stand up on your own two feet and take those hits.

Brett McKay: Awesome. I love – I’m glad we got some Mike Tyson was doing here.

Richard Greiner: There is not much of it.

Brett McKay: All right. So I think a lot of people might look at you two and think that you guys have like the ultimate dream job. I mean I’m sure they just imagine like all you’re doing is going out into the redwoods or that’s nearby campaign and testing out cool gear and writing blog post about it. What’s your job really like? Is it as dreamy as folks imagine?

Andy Forch: No.

Richard Greiner: Not at all. It’s one of those things where there are moments where I think to myself like wow, I can’t believe this is my job. This is awesome. But for every one of those there is five of this massive headache or you’re up all night, five nights in a row trying to figure out a problem. Running a business is definitely learning how to put out fires and whatever comes at you, you have to find a solution. So it’s one of the things that you can’t even imagine how many fires there are in the world so you can start running a business.

Andy Forch: Yeah. And the other thing is like we work really, really hard. I think that’s probably something that maybe from the outside people don’t appreciate as much, but everyone here works really, really hard I think. Part of that is we’re bootstrapped and we make every penny count and I think there is a bit of self-selection in that. We’re hard workers, so we bring in hard workers who have great attitude and sort of great fits with the Huckberry culture and kind of take our brand forward, but…

Richard Greiner: But that said we also make sure to play a times and like it’s tough in a environment where you encourage to take a half day and drive, so you can get up, be in the traffic in the mountains and that sort of thing. So it’s definitely a balance, but we work hard though, that’s for sure.

Andy Forch: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Yeah, because I think a lot of particularly young people, I mean they have this dream starting like a lifestyle business, right. Kind of like what you guys do. They imagine oh if I start this then I’m my own boss and I will be a little – I just drop whatever whenever I’m doing and it will be amazing, right. But they don’t think about the logistics that you get into it – once you get bigger, problems get bigger and they grow exponentially. And just like – you don’t think – I think a lot of people, they don’t think about that part when they go into starting a business.

Richard Greiner: Yeah, more money more problems.

Brett McKay: More money more problems, all right. So let’s talk about Huckberry’s future. So you’ve mentioned a little bit about how you do these sort of meet ups or how you do the GORUCK War Stories and Beer, you did the Huckberry Holiday Home last year. So it seems like you guys are trying to actually get people physically together, it’s not just online. Is that sort of like the future of Huckberry where you want to get people together in front of each other?

Andy Forch: Yeah. Again kind of circling the wagon back to the mission statement of inspiring miracle adventurous and stylish lives like right now we do that through commerce and we do that through content. But I think going forward we want to do that both in commerce and content better, but also we want to do it through in-person experiences and events. And I think the thing we’re trying to do with Huckberry is really build a community of likeminded brands and people and blogs and create cool experiences that don’t kind of currently exist in the world and put all those put together.

So Brett I know we’ve talked a lot about doing the Huckberry Holiday Home and doing Huckberry On The Road or in Art of Manliness an Huckberry event and just kind of putting our heads together and sort of creating a cool AOM and HB experience.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I would – I think that will be awesome. We could do that. But right now you guys are doing that like Huckberry On The Road, right with the event?

Andy Forch: Yeah.

Brett McKay: What’s going on with that?

Andy Forch: Yeah. So we threw a party with Topo Designs in Denver this past Thursday, so just got from back that, awesome event. So the genesis of Huckberry On The Road is we have all these great relationships with brands all across the country, really cool factories behind these brands as a lot of these brands make their products in the U.S. And we sort of wanted a conduit to kind of tell their stories in-person either through video or through pictures or through local meet ups. And so our good friend John Gaffney who in the past has written for Valle and Gear Petrol and a few other publications pulled the sub-history to kind of quit his nine to five job and travel the world and sort of document or travel the U.S. I should say and document a lot of these guys and sort of dovetailed exactly with what we’re trying to do.

So we sponsored him to do it and sort of the official tagline is Exploring America and its Makers, Bakers, Movers and Shakers, sort of the fun tagline we came up with. And so threw our first event in Denver, had a great time, met a lot of AOM readers there which was just awesome, again kind of like what Richard was saying with the GORUCK event which was so fun and it’s amazing to see the impact that you’re having out there and it’s just awesome when sort of two worlds collide. And so the punch line is Huckberry on the road is coming to many more cities. I think Portland is one of the next events we have coming up and hopefully maybe toss them in.

Brett McKay: Got to be awesome.

Richard Greiner: Yeah. It’s definitely about sort of encouraging sort of the experiential side of Huckberry, so lots of meet ups and happy hours and hikes and all those kind of things. So it’s really about telling the story of our brand partners and what they’re doing and then also meeting the Huckberrians out there and trying to do some cool stuff with them while we’re on the road.

Brett McKay: Very cool. Well Andy and Rich, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks so much for your time.

Richard Greiner: Thank you Brett, it’s been a pleasure.

Andy Forch: Yeah, absolutely. Have a great long weekend.

Brett McKay: You too. Our guest today were Andy Forch and Richard Greiner. They are the Co-Founders of Huckberry and you can find out more about Huckberry by going to huckberry.com. And if you haven’t signed up for the newsletter yet, if you use the URL aom.is/huckberry, that’s aom.is/huckberry, you will get a $5 credit on your first purchase with Huckberry and yes, full transparency, that is an affiliate link. So I will make a small percentage of the sales on that which will help support the podcast and everything else that goes with the podcast, so I really appreciate that. And you get $5 credit which is great. So yeah, it’s huckberry.com.

That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. And if you enjoy this podcast and you feel like you’ve got something out of it, I would really appreciate it if you go to iTunes or Stitcher or whatever it is you use to listen to your podcast and give us a rating. That would help us out a lot. And until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly

Last updated: December 7, 2017


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