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TomboyX Co-Founder Fran Dunaway on the importance of a hero product, and how a pivot lead to major success

by Female Startup Club
February 16th 2021
00:53:44
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 Joining me on this episode is Fran Dunaway, founder of TomboyX.

When TomboyX founders, Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez, started the company out of their garage, they did so because of one si... More

doing here, we're in month two of being part of the hubspot podcast network and I wanted to take a second to shout out another incredible women lead podcast. Being boss with Emily Thompson, if you're a creative business owner or thinking about becoming one. Being boss is an exploration of not only what it means, but what it takes to be a creative business owner, freelancer, or side hustler, I loved Emily's episode on Taking time off as a business owner, it's definitely a really challenging part of running your own business and I recommend giving it a listen, check out being boss wherever you get your podcasts. This is Fran Dunaway for female startup club hey everyone and welcome back to another episode of the female startup club podcast, I'm your host, june rasheen and joining me on this episode is Fran Dunaway, founder of Tomboy X. When Tomboy ex founders Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez started the company out of their garage.

They did so because of one simple fact they wanted underwear that fit who they are not who others told them to be. It became very clear quite quickly that they weren't alone, Tomboy X is dedicated not only to making high quality apparel that fits everyone who loves it, but also striving for an ethical supply chain, deep community engagement and pushing the apparel industry out of the box and into the future in this episode, we cover how Fran and Naomi partners in love and business saw a huge gap in the market and launched Tomboy X with a killer crowdfunding campaign, had the courage to change direction, which spoiler alert majorly paid off and how they've built a brand and community that's allowed them to work organically with superstars like Lizzo and if you've missed the last few episodes, you'll have missed my call out for listener research help. I'm leaving my direct email in the show notes and if you're a fan of the show, I would love for you to get in touch to answer a few quick questions.

And if you're a super fan of the show, please do subscribe and rate and review the show on the podcast app So other ears can find us, it might seem insignificant, but it actually truly helps me and I appreciate it and you so much. Thanks for letting me into your ears today. This is Fran for female startup club, it's safe to say that most of us have been doing more online shopping lately, right? And if you're any commerce brand that means you might be seeing more first time customers. But once they've made that first purchase, how do you keep them coming back? How do you keep them connected to you and your brand? That's what Clay vo is for Clay Vo is the ultimate marketing platform for e commerce brands. Clay vo gives you the tools to build your contact list, send memorable emails, automate key messages and so much more. That's why it's trusted by more than 40,000 brands, including female founded businesses like Pearl Mix Hint and Campari beauty.

Get in on the action to delight customers, grow brand affinity and make some serious money. Clay Vo customers made $10.2 billion dollars through the platform last year. So whether you're launching a new online business or taking your brand to the next level, clay vo can help you get growing faster and I can confirm the platform is super easy to use and has all the hard stuff done for you like templates, automated sequences and general email related resources to learn how to win at email marketing. Plus it's free to get started. Just visit Clay vo dot com slash F. S. C. To create your free account today. That's K L A V I Y O dot com slash F. S. C. Female startup club presents. Yeah, Fran. Hi, Hello, welcome to the female startup club podcast. Hello. Hello. Thank you very much. I'm excited to be here. Me too. I'm very excited to be here chatting with you this afternoon morning for you.

I'm presuming. Yes indeed indeed. Do you want to start by introducing yourself and what your business actually is? Sure. Um First I want to thank you so much for doing this because I know when we were starting out we were looking for this kind of content and would devour anything we could find. So I think it's a great service. Um Thank you so much. Yeah, my name is Fran Dunaway and I'm the Ceo and co founder of Tomboy X and we're gender neutral apparel company started in underwear and now have expanded into loungewear, sleepwear, swimwear and coming soon. Activewear, so exciting. And I know you have such a great story, I'm really excited to dig into it. Let's go back to life before you started Tomboy X. You know, pre 2013. What was pulling you towards entrepreneurship and starting this brand? Absolutely nothing. I was perfectly happy. I was perfectly happy uh, a successful career that, you know, had things like paycheck vacation and uh, time off, you know, all of those things, other parts that come with a good job.

And then we was the same. We were both happy in our careers. The the opportunity came up really out of frustration, I love to wear a collard shirt or button up shirt and I was having trouble finding something I loved. And so it really was frustrating to go into the stores and you could go to the men's department and find excellent quality fabrics with fun details under the collar. And, you know, clothing with a personality that appealed to me. And so, you know, it was one of those moments where maybe we, my then girlfriend now wife said, well how hard can it be to start a clothing line And so pretty hard, I dare say, had we known exactly. So you scratch your own itch, you were interested in creating something for yourself. And then it turned out to be a bit bigger than that. What got you started was that the light bulb moment when she said that or did you have to ponder about it for a while before it became something?

Well, yeah, we decided that we just do this little side business in our one car garage and keep doing our careers and, and yeah, scratch that itch of getting a nice, beautiful shirt, like a robert grammar been chairman made for women. So we uh, we found a friend that had designed clothing before because at the time Naomi and I didn't know a nip from a woven nor a P and L from a balance sheet. So we had no idea what we were doing and just kind of took the leap of faith and we were able to spend our own money, bootstrap a sample kind of a prototype of a shirt and actually a couple of different shirts and a blazer and that was going to be this thing that we brought into the world and we were going to do a Kickstarter campaign. And then when we're kicking around different names, we landed on Tomboy because we thought it was cute, were able to get a trademark and that was something that we thought would be a great thing. So we launched the Kickstarter campaign once we had the prototypes and reached out to all of our friends and network and everything to kind of promote that.

And it was really fascinating was that the name tomboy was resonating in such a powerful way among women and girls around the world that we started hearing from them and saying, yeah, finally a brand for me. Someone sees me for the first time and, you know, my wife and I had been um always in very purpose driven careers. So, um, we were a little bit anti capitalist, if you will. And so it wasn't really that kind of an endeavor for us, but we, because of that purpose driven side of ourselves, what we realized was that we kind of felt a sense of responsibility to this community that wanted to be seen and heard by the fashion industry. And so in keeping with my activism that seemed like, oh gosh, something that we felt compelled to respond to and then also, um, we had an instant brand and so we had this instant brand recognition just because of a name. It was very powerful. So we recognize that.

But then we also wanted to balance this thing of okay capitalism, our values and what not. And so it became very important to us. We're going to do this. We sat down and had a very thoughtful conversation and said if we're going to do this, we're going to imbue our personal values into this company every step of the way. And so what does that mean? So that we didn't feel like we were abandoning what was important to us and what were those things you identified as your key values that were really critical to building the business, I'd say first off is inclusivity, a big part of the L G B T Q community. We certainly understood what it's like to not be seen, not to be recognized or not to be valued. And so we wanted to make sure that we came out from a place that was about positivity and kindness. And so that's everything from inclusivity and the model choices that we make in the body types that we show, and also making sure that we we offer all of our styles in an extended sizing at the same price.

So we didn't want that subtle shaming of coming in and going, oh, I need to go to this section to shop for clothes because of the way I'm shaped or oh, I have to pay more because I'm I have a bigger body than a small. And so that was important to us. But it was also important to us to only work with factory owners and factories that take care of their workers. We wanted to make sure that we took care of our own workers. And so we wanted to, you know, we offered paid health care benefits from day one when we first hired employees. And so, uh, you know, it was those kind of things. Also the environment is very important tests of working with sustainable fabrics and, you know, lot of reduction processes. So all of those things come into all of our decisions, it wasn't about just going out and making a buck or, or you know, selling underwear, it was more important than that. And then what it kind of changed too, which was really fascinating when you take those things that are important to you and your values is that it became imbued and everything that we did, but then it also became kind of turned the fashion industry the notion of telling you how to be cool, that aspirational where tomboy X and you'll be cool.

It wasn't that it was we think you're so cool the way you are and we think you're so wonderful, we want to celebrate that. And so that was kind of what, where it landed, not intentionally, but just because of the journey we were taking the way we were thinking about it so beautiful. I really love that. And I it's so cool to say that, you know, it's not about wearing this to be cool, it's just about being you are cool as you are. And I read something that you said in an article and it was along the lines of, we're not for everybody, but wherefore anybody. And I thought that was really nice to read as well. Um and just to circle back about the name, I mean it's also just quite clever to be able to have chosen a name that people can instantly see it and be like, I know what this is about, this is a brand for me. It's genius, marketing genius. It's powerful, isn't it? And it is powerful. Yeah. You know, we did a google trend of the word at the time and it was kind of under the radar, which I think is why we were able to get the trademark.

You know, I mean, we actually had the word tomboy trademark we have since trademark tomboy X. But that was just a really amazing thing. And I think that it was just such a kind of an old word that people were using, but you're right, it's incredibly powerful. You know, it takes a long time to build up that brand equity if you have a slew, Sure, if you have a, you know, something called the coke or you know, it's just not easy to, takes a lot of time to help people understand what that means. And so yeah, that instant recognition and I think because of our background, we had, you know, in politics, I think we saw the fervor and felt the passion behind it in a way that we were like, wow, this is this is big, this is bigger than us, this is bigger than a shirt, what is that going to be? What is that? And you know, started reaching out listening to podcasts and reading books and Lincoln stalking people and uh you know, trying to find anyone that would sit down and talk with us about what their journey was. And I remember early on finding um, a connection to bobby infield who was one of the founders of Tommy bahama, another Seattle based clothing company and got on the phone with him and he said, you know, two things.

First of all, you think you're tapping into a vein and you're going to hit an artery, which is what we did as well. And then the second thing he said, which was equally important was you need to find a hero product that you can build your brand around in their case. It was a quarters of pudding and uh, and that was what they built their entire, you know, they funded the development of everything else. So that got us to thinking and oh gosh, what is it one product that we could have because at the time we, we launched the Kickstarter, we raised $76,000.30 days, we put the shirts into production here in Seattle and then we started uh, kind of curating a look that was in our minds, a tomboy look. So we, we added jewelry, you know, we drop ship and, and uh, we added, uh, jeans and shoes and scarves and hats and all sorts of things that were kind of this look and feel. Um, but none of them felt powerful enough to be like that, iconic. What are we building the brand around And we, we got blank.

So we, we also would get a lot of blanks and just put our logo on it, see how you know knew that that was a powerful thing and we had found these whitey tidy kind of underwear made for women that were blanks and they were in different colors and so we put our logo on those and when we were thinking about what's our hero product uh it was just me and Naomi you know, we worked for the first three years without a paycheck and so she was doing customer service and she said I am getting a lot of requests for boxer briefs for women. And we said really? So we looked at what we started with the analysis of our orders and we realized that almost every order had a pair of this underwear that we didn't make, that wasn't very comfortable that only went in small through extra large and the extra large was more of a large. And so um we started increasing the price just to see because you could go on to amazon and buy the same underwear for five bucks without our logo. And so people would continue to pay. So it was like, okay, so there's something here in this marriage between underwear and the tumbling X logo.

What is it, what is that thing? So that's when then we said, you know, we're getting a lot of requests for boxer briefs and I was like nobody does that. So went on to Nordstrom dot com typed in boxer briefs for women and up came a pair of Spanx and so we were pretty sure that wasn't what our customer was looking for when they were talking about boxer briefs for women. And so we set out to make the best damn pair of boxer briefs made for assist female body that had ever been made. And we, we happened to this uh you know, I had a lot of rainbow unicorn moments along the journey and one of them was when this amazing woman walked into our lives with 30 years of production experience and sourcing experience and she said, I want to help. I love what you're doing and I want to help. And so we said, great go make excellent boxer briefs and off she went. And uh we pre sold them two weeks prior to their arrival, hoping we'd sell enough to pay for them because we didn't have the money and they sold out before they arrived.

Six months later, we tripled our revenue And we said we have not only found a hero product, but a hero category which was really a perfect fit for tom Boy X because it's about how you feel on the inside. So underwear was like the first and the next of skin experienced. That seemed to be perfectly with what we were trying to do with the tomboy X brand. Uh, I love that. So cool. I just love it. And imagine that all those customers who are probably still with you today who were requesting that in the beginning and you know, they changed the course of your brand. That's so exciting. I want to talk more about this time. What kind of year are we talking here? Let's see. We started the Kickstarter campaign in 2000 and 13 and in March of 2000 and 13. And then in uh september of 2000 and 14, we introduced the first boxer briefs. And then in july of 2000 and 16 we did a rebrand. So we got rid of the old logo. We, we worked with a branding agency and Came up with a very different look and feel and got rid of anything that we weren't making, including the shirts and we went all in focus on that hero category, next of skin and we got rid of everything else.

And so the middle of July 2016 was when that happened. So gone where the shirts, the jeans, the shoes, all of that and just focused on underwear and then we continue to add different categories and swimwear. Uh, those types of things. But that focus was really what was important to our success because then we could hone in and continue to build upon that. We were never going to get to the same place had we kept all of the other distractions, if you will, we knew what our golden egg was, we needed to hone in on that and let that build our brand because you can get more volumes, you can get more customers and bring them in through one point and then there's some consistency across the board. got it. And I imagine that's also the time then 2016 ISH when it started to, it was a really a tipping point because you had your clear focus, you got rid of the clutter and you were able to go like this.

I want to talk more about the marketing side of things because I imagine you had, you know, a great posse of people from that early crowdfunding campaign where you were able to generate awareness, get those first kind of early eyeballs on what you were doing. But when you were sort of getting to that point in 2016 how has your marketing evolved? And what were you doing to find new people and new customers? Yes, great question is, it's a continual challenge and, and we're continually iterating. Uh, and it's so interesting to see how far we've come. Uh, you know, I look at our marketing team today and we're so sophisticated and the analytics and we go down to the, you know, the granularity that we can get to at the time. It was much more of a shotgun approach and just trying to kind of figure out what we were doing. Um in the early days, in the very early days when it was just me and Naomi, I would literally turn on a facebook ad and wait until we hit our goal and then turn it off. And that was this level of sophistication. And then as we added people, you know, to our team that changed, but you've, you've hit on a really important piece, which is, we were fortunate in that we were chosen by a very well known advertising branding agency that's quite large and they had a window of opportunity for two years where they were trying out this new business model where they wanted to share on the upside of brands that were helping to build rather than just charging an agency fee.

They chose a brand or a cash equity split model for a couple of years. So there was this small team within the agency that was allowed to choose a couple of companies a year that they wanted to work for for these two years and so they chose us and we had been looking for someone to help us with that right voice. Naomi and I aren't marketing people and so we knew we had something but we were lacking someone to give it the voice. And so we were introduced to this woman that worked for this agency that happened to be in this division and you know, we met for coffee and a 20 minute coffee turned into a two hour conversation and seriously five minutes and I knew we had found the woman that was going to give our brand of voice and Courtney love man is her name and she's an amazing, amazing marketer. You know, she has a long history of great brands. So uh, fortunately they accepted us and we were able to negotiate a deal and then they worked for almost a year on helping us really refined the look and feel otherwise we could have never afforded to do that.

You know, when you're, when you're working with an inventory based company, all your money has to go into inventory if you're going to keep growing. And so, um cash was a continual problem. And so we had to keep a real close tab on what we were spending on and out. And so that was a rainbow unicorn moment where they came in and helped to give us this beautiful look and feel and you could still see their impact obviously on our website. It's it's changed considerably and it's recently gone through another major change. Um and so it's just something that we're continually iterating on. But that brand work was so important and then it helped us hone in on different target audiences. And and at the time, what we did was we broke our categories and into our customer base into kind of three different categories. One was our, what we call the kind of status first. People that we're looking for a new brand, the artists that we're looking for the latest and coolest uh and they want to get behind a brand that has shared their values.

And so that was one category. And then the second category we called our function first and and uh which also inspired our first line of boxer briefs and those are those are people who are in service industries or or wear uniform to work every day, like firefighters, police officers, um athletes and people who wear scrubs, you know that have loose fitting clothes, that traditional underwear just doesn't work and it's just it's uncomfortable and so that was our function first that need it for their line of work. Uh firefighters stripping down to get into your uniform, right? You wanna you wanna be in something that gives you a little bit more modesty so that you can jump in your uniform and go and then there was our comfort first which was our L. G. B. T. Q. Population as well as our plus size population. The chance want something comfortable, that's the most important and that was probably and still is our largest category of customer I'd say. Um It was easy targeting the LGBTQ community because that's a target in facebook.

Um and then, you know likenesses and whatnot. So that was kind of how we built the foundation and we recognized early on that it was much larger than just a niche L. G. B. T. Q. Brand. And it was really amazing because it coincided the timing with the Me Too movement and now people are of course they're making plus size closing because they see market share opportunity where we did it because we thought it was the right thing to do out of the gate and so yeah, so it's it's continually evolving. Um and we know that we've got a lot of our customers are supportive of the LGBTQ community not necessarily identify as and so, you know, progressive people that have progressive values and that want to get involved with a with a brand that's making a difference and that makes very comfortable underwear then tomboy X is the place for you. I love that. I'm particularly interested just to go back for a second in the, you know, you were saying about this deal that you struck with this branding agency, can you just dig a little deeper on what it means to do a cash equity split and for them to take the benefit on the upside for anyone listening who is like, oh that's a light bulb moment, Maybe I could do something like that.

Sure. Uh yeah, I wish that more companies did something like that, especially for early stage. So obviously cash flow, cash is king, especially in the early days when you're not profitable and you're just shooting for growth. And so um we were able to negotiate for a percentage of the company, a small percentage of the company and in exchange for services. And then we also did, well, I actually structured it in a way that we didn't have to give up cash because my argument was, well, if you own shares in the company, if you want a percentage of the company, then why would you want us to spend our cash pain you when we could spend that on something that's actually going to grow the business? So it took a while, but we finally got to an agreement, so where they then did a rev share. So um I said, okay, so for X amount, you're gonna we're gonna pay you cash this amount and then the rest you're going to get in the equity.

And so, but I'm not going to pay you that until after we've launched with the new brand. Look and feel so you have to do all the work up until then and then we'll give you a percentage of the revenue every month until we pay back this initial amount. So we set an amount we're gonna rev share once we've launched and the rest you're going to get when we when we have a liquidity event. And so they finally agreed to it and it was pretty entertaining because they they kept repackaging and you know, they would come to me and say, well, how about this way? And I kept, I would say we have no money, we have no one listening. Exactly. And so they go and they repackage it, you know, their brand is and they come back and they presented another way and I'd say we still have no money. And so finally they, it sunk in that we had no money and the only way they were going to get this deal and get it done was to do this rev share deal and so that's what they did and we paid them back that and then we had a liquidity event and they walked away, Pretty happy, nice win win for everyone.

It sounds like Exactly. I think that's a great insight for, you know, people who are out there and looking for different ways to approach deals. Like this sounds really cool, sounds really interesting. I want to go back to more of the marketing side of things to find out how you've been able to scale and really grow your customer base and acquire new people what's working for you now, you know, that is our number one goal is new customer acquisition and that is the full team effort right now. Uh you know, we have a great opportunity in terms of awareness, There are a lot of people that have never heard of us and so how do we find them? And the big way that we're going about that right now is in our storytelling around the brand and how we're reaching out to people. So we might have three different story paths and depending on what your interests are or you know what you're looking like it. Marketing person is. And so we bring you in through these different stories because we want you to know who we are, we want you to know about our sustainability if that's important to you or if you're just a plus size looking for nobody making six X especially not a cute print with really soft fabrics, then we're the one for you.

So, it's that engagement and that's that personal connection with our customers. And so a lot of different ways were also branching out into new channels this year that we've never done. We've got an add on hulu right now, we've got some podcast advertising going out. We advertise on K XP Radio, which is a global radio station and we're sending out mailers for the first time this year and just really trying to reach people in new ways and not rely explicitly on digital. Mm I imagine there's lots of fun opportunities when it comes to things like Pride Month and pride parades and floats and all that kind of thing as well. That would be really fun. And out there. Absolutely. We own Pride. Pride is our christmas and it's very important to us and we also love Halloween. So those are our two biggies and we we have Rainbow collections that are continually in but we also really want to celebrate uh you know the LGBTQ community we also get very involved in and we've been giving back since the beginning of of the company and so it's it's very important to us to support causes that that matter to us.

And for example um you probably heard of the killing of uh black men in the United States and the systemic racism that has kind of reached its peak Hopefully. So we were able to donate $50,000 to the black lives matter movement a few months ago. And so that's another important part of who we are and our give back to the community and we have a lot of causes. Arlene, my assistant, you spoke with shoutout to Arlene Shell out Darlene she's the heart and soul of the of the office and she does food drives or clothing drives every month and take them to local homeless shelters. So it's really it's important to not only me and Naomi but to everyone that works for us and we're really blessed in that way mm Gosh it just sounds like such a nice community of you know people that you've built working around you but also for the people who buy your products and are involved whether it's just on social media or the you know the wider community sounds really cool, I love it and yesterday you had a very special woman posting about you can you share a little bit about what you told me earlier.

Yes boy, my phone was blowing up. I heard from so many people and every different way that you can reach out. Yeah, lizzo was touting our underwear once again. Now she's, she's done it repeatedly. In fact the first time she did, it was probably over a year ago and I woke up and you know, the first thing I do is kind of check sales and I was like, oh we're up this morning, What's going on? Why are we selling so many avocado underwear? And sure enough, Lizzo is out there dancing and uh, you know, did a little, I don't think it was Tiktok, I think it was a story on instagram at the time and she's, she's dancing in the avocado print. And so we sent her product and she doesn't have to post it. We don't have any agreement. We don't pay her anything. But she really loves the brand and it resonates with her in a powerful way. So yeah, yesterday she even went so far as to where the bra inside out so that the viewers could see that it's our logo and read it. It wasn't flipped and so that's true. That's true love.

Oh my gosh! And my 10 year old niece thinks I'm the coolest, oh my God, but you are the coolest. That's amazing. And I guess the thing that it comes back to is that you have a strong brand. You have very strong values and she really connects with those values and she obviously heard about your brand at some point, But are you able to talk about kind of how it got to the point where you were able to send her stuff? Like how do you know how she found the brand in the first place? I do? Actually, I do. Uh she was here at at a pride festival, uh I think it was a pride weekend and she was doing a main stage up on Capitol Hill outside, and a friend of mine that used to work for me work for the agency where she was using as a green room. And so she reached out to me and said, hey, you want to get anything to lizzo? And I said you bet I do. And unfortunately I was in London at the time of the concert, so I didn't get to go, but some of our employees went and yeah, they just left her a care package. And then um we reached out to her agent and we have a relationship with her and so that was how it started.

But we see things Willow smith most recently posted a great video, she's playing a song and she's wearing Tomboy X, and we have no idea, and she must have found us. And so, uh you know, we're trying to reach out to her to get her some more product cool, so people find us and then uh we feel really good and look, lizzo is perfect for us because she she stands for everything that we stand for and you know, that body positivity and body image and, and just kindness. I just think that she's so smart and she's so savvy and she's really making a difference in people's lives and, and that's what we aspire to as well. I love that. That's heartwarming. Love it. I'm interested to talk to you about your technology. What's powering your business and making it easy for you to do your job. Gosh, it's almost like you attended our three year strategic session, new customers technology. I'm on the inside. That's right. That's right. That's amazing. Um, so technology is a big focus first this year because we're, in some ways we are very manual still spreadsheets and whatnot.

But early on, you know, we wouldn't be where we are. We couldn't have done what we did if it hadn't been for something like, uh, Shopify, a phenomenal platform that has all these plug and play things that you can do, uh, to build a store online. And that was just unheard of a few years prior without that, you know, setting up a commerce platform. Way too expensive. Way too daunting. I think we actually priced it out and when we were looking at it and it was, you know, $50,000 or something at the time. And on top of I, we could pay what, 50 bucks a month. And so that's the most important and powerful um, technology for us. And then we just have added different platforms or different applications depending on, you know, how we want to return or and we constantly upgraded, you know, the software that we use at the beginning, um that worked great for us. Like mail chimp was a great beginning company email platform. Then we moved to Clay vo because it had more capabilities and it was more robust and the same with our CSR, so our customer service, um, we continue to upgrade and iterate on that.

And uh, you know, now we're reevaluating maybe it's time to move off with Shopify onto something else that we have more control over. So it's a, it's a continual iteration, but this year is the big focus and, and look, you know, where eight years in now, so it takes some time to get here. It isn't as though we should have done it this way in the beginning is that we didn't have the resources either and people power or financial to make the change. And so now we want to get a software platform that connects all our backend and that our analysts, we have a marketing analyst as well as a financial analyst. And so they will are constantly looking at trends in ways that we can improve and uh, you know, I mean our goal this year, we're will be our first profitable year. And so we're looking at ways to increase our efficiencies and technology is one of those waves. Mm and all these platforms and companies that are making our lives easier, they really lower the barrier for entry. They make it possible for, you know, anyone to start a business and anyone to give it a try.

Whereas like you said back in the day, if you had to build a $50,000 website and buy inventory and potentially higher staff, it was really a high barrier to entry for just the average Joe. Absolutely. And and it's a great way to test out your ideas. You know, I think one of the critical things of being an entrepreneur is being able to test and learn and not just get set in your ways about what you think is the exact way it's going to be. And you know, you mentioned earlier, you recognize earlier that we listen to our customers and that we continue to listen to our customers. That is a critical part of our success when we don't just decide, oh gosh, I wonder if they want swimwear. No, they're clamoring and banging on our door. Make swimwear. And and so, um, you know, I think that listening and then being able to change your path But that these platforms are great ways for you to test your idea. Um the same with like the crowd sourcing where we were like, well, if we can't raise this money, then it's an idea that isn't going to work and so we raised the money and then that, that kind of kept us going.

So it is a great thing. It's, it's a wonderful thing. I've, I've always been an early adopter of technology and I continue to love what the power that it gives us. Oh, absolutely. Gosh, Tiktok is a new platform, is just so crazy, so powerful. Oh my goodness! From what I've read, you raised recently around $17 million dollars in capital. I'm wondering what that allows you to do now and what that brings for the future of your business. Yeah, we actually raised about 10 million from a London firm and then they also bought out about close to seven million in secondary. So, um, they own a lot of the company, but the investment itself in the business was only the 10 million. And so, you know, it's, it's game changing. Um, we built the company to, gosh, over seven million in revenue without anyone that had any e commerce experience at all, wow, you really hit that artery. We did, we did.

And so we were just kind of, you know, flying by the seat of our pants and, and also, we didn't have the resources to bring in experts. We couldn't pay them. And so it was really, um, put together and built the company to that, that large of a company, which is a pretty successful company by any standard with a group of passionate people, individuals that we're passionate about what we were building and why we were building it. And so there was a lot of just, well, let's try this, let's try that spaghetti at the wall kind of thing. And so bringing in investment, um we brought in a series a at the end of 18 and or the middle of 18 and so that really allowed us to add some people to the team. But then when we brought in this recent 10 year and a half ago, $10 million investment that really helped us to level up, I mean, we were able to bring in several more people that really have some strong e commerce background and so they came in and really restructured, you know, at every stage of the game.

You have to evaluate if their team is the right team for where you are. And so as hard as that is, you have to make some hard, hard choices because the scrappy little hardscrabble team that's going to throw the spaghetti at the wall can get you to here, but are they going to be able to get you to hear? And that's not often the case. And so we currently have a new team, we brought in ahead of martin, head of marketing a year ago actually last week was her one year and she changed everything. She reordered the entire team and she's brought in all of these experts and they are, this is going to be a breakthrough year for us because of, of the team that's in place and the expertise and you know, I sit in these meetings and I'm just in awe at how smart they are, how they clearly understand every lever out there and what's going on with the business, with the core business and in a way that puts us in charge and we aren't just trying to figure out what works and what doesn't work or something isn't working, why it isn't working.

We now have all of those answers And a team that is really rallying behind growth scale and taking us to the next level, uh, you know, as we continue to grow. So we grew 48% year over year last year, that's our goal for this year, at least 50% again. And so, you know, it's a growing concern, but it's very, very different and, you know, to your listeners, especially people that are just starting out, one of the very important things that I learned is that it's important not to look at where you're going in the long term, but at what you need to focus on today. So if you're looking at the success of Tomboy X and saying, oh, you need to get all this, you know, these people are all this technology. No, no, no, you need to look at what you need today to get you to tomorrow to next week and then take it in the bite sized chunks that you need, that you can keep going because if you're just looking at, oh my gosh, the overwhelming picture of how you're going to get to there, then you're going to get lost and you're going to be overwhelmed and you're going to get tired and burn out.

So just take it a bite at a time. Absolutely. And I think that, I don't know everyone says it, but if you just focus on the things that you can do today, that move the business forward, just get that one thing done. Even if it's one thing, just do that one thing and then tomorrow do that thing again and slowly, that compounded effect will, you know, one day you'll wake up 10 years from now and you'll have a tomboy X on your hands. Exactly as our friend Eliza would say, 100 totally. What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to start their own business aside from what we were just speaking about? Well, I think that it's super important to find mentors that have experienced in what you're doing and you know, people are always um we have found that people are willing to give of their time and their advice and their expertise uh you know, take them out for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and just pick their brains and you know, it's important not to go in with that?

Can I just pick your brain? It would be more in with here. My three questions I've got for you today, you know, and get them to get involved in that. And the other thing is that even if you are raising money, you know, it's important that you remember that people don't want to just write a check, they want to bring their expertise, they want you to ask their advice, they want you to bring them into it. And that's why if you look at someone who's portfolio of investing is always in tech and you're building a flower business, you should probably not go talk to them because they don't want to talk to you. They're not just gonna go, oh my God, I love this flower idea. They're gonna be like, I don't know anything about flowers, I know about tech, so focus in on where you need to be, find a mentor and in our case what we did, and it wasn't intentional. And so it's only in hindsight that I can say this, but it worked very well for us to have two different mentors that that were very involved with us and also investors, but early on they were just mentors and one is eternal optimist, everything's gonna be okay, You've got this, it's all good and the other is eternal pessimist.

Oh my gosh, this is what are you thinking and how can you possibly be there and then you've got to know when to call which one. So we don't want to call them the pessimist when you're down, you know, you want to, you want to call them optimists and and then when you're flying high and you think there's no problems in the world, then you call the pessimist to help you remember what you need to be focused on. So there was a big lesson for us in terms of finding people that will help in your specific industry that can help spoon feed you the things you need to get you to, what do I need to do today to get me to tomorrow. Amazing! I love that advice. We are up to the six quick questions part of the episode. Super fun question number one is what's your, why, Why do you do what you do? Uh I guess ah I like to make people feel good, I like to like to make people laugh. I like to, you know impart kindness and um and be uplifting in some way.

So uh it just, maybe it's a hedonistic instinct. I like to feel good and yeah, I think laughter and kindness is, is the key for happiness totally and love, love, Love, definitely. You can't have one without the other. Absolutely question. Number two is what do you think has been the number one marketing moment that's made your business pop Number one Marketing moment. Um I would say the branding, the rebrand that we did with uh with the agency that you can clearly see it um as you pointed out earlier and it was indeed a spike. And so that rebrand really kind of put us on the map. Don't do that Question. Number three is, where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading? What are you tuning into podcast wires? Do you subscribe to any newsletters? Yes, yes, yes, consumption. Um in the early days I've got to say because we didn't know much our favorite podcast was loose threads, which is a phenomenal podcast out of new york Richie Spiegel.

And that was a really helpful one in terms of how to think about how people did business. And he asks the same questions every time. And so it's a, it's a really great format that helps. And uh, today I'm listening more to burn a brown on how to be a leader and uh you know, kindness is clarity, that that type of thing and you know, being holed up and uh trying to keep myself busy. I like to listen to books while I build puzzles. And so, um, I recently listened to the, we work, you know, the billionaire loser and then also I'm now I'm listening to Flash Boys, which is about the whole Wall Street thing. Uh, I haven't heard that one. Oh yeah, it's, it's fascinating a story and then, um, you know, I read the new york times and Washington post every morning, we get the Harvard business review and the new york magazine. Um, so just lots of lots of different things and you know, the other thing that we're doing that is new for us is we've embraced capitalism and we feel as though we can make a bigger difference.

But my my latest kind of passion is getting more economic equity for women and um by population so that we can be out there making a difference. The money isn't going to come to us, we're going to have to go and get it and we're gonna have to help each other and we're going to have to, you know, were involved in some investment funds that invested women entrepreneurs or that in companies that support female causes and you know, we have to get more wealth and the power of in the hands of women so that we can make a difference and be out there because that is the power and that's been wielded and continues to be wielded against us when you look at the statistics and the data, so help your help your friends bring them along and you know, this is how we're going to correct the imbalance of the economics of this world. I love that I saw Alan from backstage capital just launched a new, like, I guess you would call it like a crowdfunding investment situation where she invites everyone if you want to be part of it to join.

And I thought that was really cool. I love what she's doing. Yeah. Space. He's done amazing things. Yeah. She's really, uh, turning it on its end. The whole investment communities. Yeah, yeah. She's amazing. Very cool. Question Number four is how do you win the day? And that's around your am or your PM rituals that keep you feeling happy and successful and productive and motivated. Oh gosh, If I can make my wife laugh before, you know, first thing in the morning and at the end of the day, that's a pretty good day. She's got a great laugh. Um, you know, especially around Covid, it's, it's, if I, if I can motivate myself to, to do something physical and uh, and make sure that the, that the dogs get some physical activity and that we have a nice meal with, you know, food is an important ritual for us around here. So making a beautiful meal and just enjoying our time and, and figuring out, you know, what, what's next?

We got a new puppy seven months ago. And so she's the light of our lives. And so there's no lack of laughter in this household on a daily basis. It's funny, I was actually saying to my husband maybe it was yesterday. Um, Covid really makes you appreciate just the small moments, just the nothing moments way more than I've ever thought about before. And, and like I said before the show started. I also have a new puppy and and she is just such joy and I'm like, my life is perfect, every day is perfect. Like, you know, if I just have my little moments with my dog, that's the best I can ask for. It's so special. Yeah, that's so true. It's it's so weird. You know, I would have, if you'd have told me I could be holed up in my house pretty much for a year and be content. I would have laughed you out of the now. I love to travel. I love to go out with friends. You know, all of these things and not that we haven't found ways to get out. But yeah, it is, it's a very different mentality.

I think that it's it's changed us all. Mm. Absolutely. Question number five. I'm gonna speed through these last two ones. I can see the time creeping up on us. If you only had $1000 left in your business bank account, where would you spend it? Where is the most important spend of a dollar for you? Uh I would. Let's see $1000. That's not much. Uh I think I well, I I turned immediately to I probably go to crowdfunding. I'd spend it on crowdfunding. Great. Great answer. Get some more people involved. Don't get some money totally. I think I lived that for four years. Yeah. Question number six, Last question, how do you deal with failure? What's your mindset or approach? Uh I always like to look at what the lessons, what I learned and what I can do with that, how I will do things differently because of that lesson. And so, um I think that's, that's really important, is just finding the lesson and uh what you take forward from that amazing Brann, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the female startup Club podcast today.

I've loved learning about your brand and what you're doing for the world. It's amazing. Oh, thank you so much and went so fast. He went really fast, no doubt. Yeah, well I hope to see you in person sometime and uh and thank you again for what you're doing. This is this is a wonderful thing. Hey, it's just me here. Thanks for listening to this amazing episode of the female startup club podcast. If you want to hear more, head to my instagram at Dune rasheen to see my filmed interviews with incredible female founders like Erica from fluffy beauty Greta from drop bottle and Sammy leo from breeze bum and if you like what we're doing here, visit our website and sign up to female startup club dot com to get all of the good stuff delivered straight to your inbox and lastly subscribe to the female startup club podcast. Yeah, yeah

TomboyX Co-Founder Fran Dunaway on the importance of a hero product, and how a pivot lead to major success
TomboyX Co-Founder Fran Dunaway on the importance of a hero product, and how a pivot lead to major success
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