In this episode, Bianca discusses how her company Birdies went from zero to celebrity-slipper-of-choice in less than a year, including how it started, some set-backs and learnings, balancing this with her day job, and her thoughts on getting Birdies into the White House.
Bianca is the co-founder of Birdies Slippers – which is a new brand of stylish and comfortable slippers. The company launched less than one year ago and has taken off quickly, they have buyers all over the country and have been featured in dozens of publications, fashion blogs, and TV shows, including The Knot, Chicago Magazine, and Pretty Little Liars, just to name a few.
Where Birdies started
- Came from personal need – she had been looking for footwear she could wear when entertaining at home.
- Options were: barefoot, in socks, or in frumpy houseshoes – nothing like this existed.
- Surveyed other women and found the same frustration
- Sales came in very quickly, validating the market need.
- Solves a void that most people don’t realize exists
Exciting moments from the last year
- Meghan Markle posted her Birdies on Instagram
- Emmy Rossum posted her Birdies on Instagram too
- Elle Decor saw Amy’s shoot and then included Birdies in their gift guide
Biggest challenge from the last year
- After biggest sales day of the year following some good PR, their manufacturing partner tried to convince them to do a big order in a fabric / style they didn’t feel was on-brand, threatening to cut them off if they didn’t agree.
- They called his bluff in order to protect the brand and stay true to what customers wanted. He terminated the relationship and cut them off from the factories overseas.
- Was a very low point, thought they were going to miss the Fall collection
- An even better factory reached out within a few days expressing interest in partnering. This improved the quality of the shoes and improved margins 33%.
What we learned from this is to always stay true to who we are, what our brand is, and what our customers want.
How they got initial traction
- Received first shipment of slippers. Hadn’t told anyone about this venture yet but suddenly needed to get the word out.
- Bianca is a full-time Facebook employee. Knew it would be an incredible platform to talk about Birdies, but also needed to make the company aware that she was starting this venture.
- Let team and management know and also emailed Sheryl Sandberg to ask for her support. She responded right away, was very supportive, and was one of the first to own a pair of Birdies.
- Posted the launch on their personal Facebook page. Orders from friends came within minutes, photos posted of people wearing Birdies came within a few days and led to friends of friends buying, and within weeks people started making repeat purchases.
- Business took off through Facebook.
Surprising customer trend
- Never anticipated people would want to wear them outside, but they do.
- Creates a marketing challenge – don’t want the shoes to try to be everything.
When do you know when to stay focused and when do you know when to pivot?
- Received advice to stay focused but keep outdoor use-case in mind when designing the product.
Role of Mentors
- Have received help from a lot of people – CEOs/Founders of Bonobos, Trunk Club, Nyx, etc.
- Helpful having other eCommerce company founders share how they started their companies, how it’s not always so positive, etc.
- A lot of people have reached out offering their time, network, even interest in investing – very fortunate.
Longer term growth opportunities
- So many exciting possibilities – just not enough hours in the day to tackle them.
- Will likely find ways to sell through brick & mortar, wholesale through retailers.
One thing we have learned as an eCommerce company is that selling through brick and mortars is really important.
- Have had customers request men’s and kids’ lines, international expansion (already in Canada.)
- In short-term want to stay focused on women and the home. Big opportunity here.
Birdies and the next President?
- If Hillary wins the election, she could benefit from having something to wear while working in the oval office and traveling in Airforce One
- Could Birdies be the official work-from-home shoe for Hillary Clinton? “From your house to the white house.”
- So many powerful women are working from home more.
I can’t see Hillary Clinton going barefoot while in the White House.
Balancing Birdies with full-time job and family
- 100% of her advisors told her to stay at Facebook as long as possible, keep listening to her customers – this takes time.
- She uses her three hour daily commute to work on Birdies
- There’s a lot you can do part-time in order to explore whether this is a viable business idea before changing your life.
Be creative and you can overcome any obstacle.
Taking on investment
- Another key piece of advice she’s received – don’t take money until you have to
- Take time to listen to customers, focus on product and customer service before raising money
Advice for others looking to start a company
- Just go for it! You don’t have to change your life to start something new, just start it.
- Start small – make it in your kitchen, sell it to your friends.
When you become obsessed with solving a problem, you just DO it.