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A $6k Investment to $500k in Revenue – How I Built a Brand from Nothing

The other day I read an article that said the only way to build a CPG company is with money, and lots of it. For anyone starting out, this unfortunately is the cold hard truth. Whether to fulfill huge distribution orders or to expand your line, you need money. The only problem is, to get that big check from a friend, family member or investor, you’ll need to prove your product is both a viable concept (think margins) and successful at drawing attention when placed on a busy shelf. The goal of this article is not to scare you away from starting a brand, but to help inform you of some of those early hurdles you may encounter when getting a product off the ground.

A little Bit About Myself

When it comes to business, I live, eat and breathe Branding. I am the owner of Admiral Men’s Grooming, a company I started in my garage in 2013 with a $6,000 loan that I was able to grow to almost $500,000 in revenue in under 18-months. We’ve been featured in GQ’s recent “10 Grooming Startups That Are Changing the Game” article and were PacSun and Urban Outfitter’s best selling Men’s Grooming Product when working on our old wholesale model.

Disclaimer – Building a Brand is possibly one of the slowest ways to riches. It takes time, effort, attention to detail and an undeniable dedication to a cause/product seemingly much larger than yourself. It will test you, day in and day out. Just saying “This brand makes quality products” won’t cut it in today’s fast paced world. The value has to be perceived before it’s ever experienced. Remember, not everyone will like your brand, no matter how much effort you put into it, your product just WILL NOT resonate with a good percentage of people.

 1. Good Brands Start with a Passion. All good brands start with a passion. Apple, Nike, Adidas, GoPro… they all started with a drive and desire to change something in customers lives. Whether that passion was for changing computing forever, improving how we run, to capturing adventures in HD, every one of these founders started with a desire to change and improve a real world experience. My passion was my obsession with package design. I’ll be the first to admit it, I kind of “fell” into my company. With no prior Men’s Grooming experience it just was a “right place at the right time” moment and an undeniable drive to create something of value for people.

2. Design is KEY. Whether it’s a specific packaging shape, logo or color choice, forget the “wording” and ask yourself how your product makes you feel visually. When I first started mocking up our original product, one of the things that helped me with this was un-focusing my eyes and blurring the design to get a better feel for the “look” of the product. In the end, how your product looks & makes customers feel will be the main driver for early adoption and those key sales that keep all brands afloat in the beginning. 

3. Pick a Niche, expand later. This is quite possibly the most important piece of advice I acquired in my first few months. By picking a niche, I mean specialize. When you have limited capital it’s always tempting to see the “Big Picture Numbers” and try and take over an entire industry to increase revenue. When we first started we were strictly a premium crafted pomade company. By focusing on a single angle we were able to easily partner, connect and build the brand in a smaller niche category and expand later. We now carry a full line of wash, style and shave products because people trust the quality of our products, all cemented during our original launch.

 4. Patience. Patience. Patience. Your brand will not blow up over night, I promise. You hear it time and again, people interviewing successful brand owners and it seems as though it caught on immediately. This is not the case for 99.99% of brands and in the end it will take time, dedication and a very long (10 year build) approach. Your brand will be worth it’s weight in gold but like anything, it’ll take a while to get there so don’t stress and push to hard. A desperate brand is a dead brand.

In the end, your products will be an extension of your own personality. If you’re an un-organized scatter brained creative, your product will as well. If you’re a design obsessed control freak, that to will also show. The goal is to focus on making something of value to your customers, delivering on your promise and doing so on every order. Remember, start small, design well and value every customer like it’s your last because if you don’t, it just might be.

This article also appears on LinkedIn and is published here with the permission of the athor