Andy Forch and Richard Greiner started the lifestyle and apparel site Huckberry in their apartment in 2011. They wanted to focus on people like themselves, who are interested in the outdoors, but aren’t extreme explorers.
They offer quality products for a short amount of time at a discount, everything from Fjällräven winter coats, to Gerber knives, to Throne watches, to Yeti coolers.
They’ve also built a fan base based on their interesting blog, their rugged yet accessible aesthetic, and their surprisingly enjoyable email newsletters. While most people’s inboxes are flooded with sales emails promising you the moon, Huckberry’s emails come with entertaining anecdotes and a straightforward, honest design. Because of this, their open and click rates for their emails are well above the industry baselines.
We talked to Forch (on the right in the picture above) about their adventures, how they choose products, and why they are proud of being a bootstrapped* start-up.
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SB: Why was it so important to the two of you to be bootstrapped and how has that affected the way you have grown the business?
AF: Before starting Huckberry, we read a lot of entrepreneurship books, blogs, and magazines, but the ones that most resonated with us were Signals vs. Noise and Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Workweek. At their core, both publications are advocates of the lean, agile start-up method, and are pretty much playbooks for bootstrapping.
We were lucky to launch a business that had positive working capital (our customers often pay us before we pay our suppliers), and had enough savings from our careers in Venture Capital, where bootstrapping was — and still is — a viable option for us.
As first time entrepreneurs, bootstrapping was pretty much the only option for launching Huckberry. Though we now have lots of inbound VC interest, we love the control that comes with bootstrapping as it allows us to focus on the long-game, which for us comes down to the 3 C’s: commerce, content and community. If we were a VC-backed company, I think content and community would take a backseat to commerce for short-term gains.
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SB: What is the process to choose the products that you offer in the Huckberry store? Do you two personally test each item?
AF: Choosing products is more of an art than a science. We seek new products through attending tradeshows, staying plugged into (seemingly) every blog on the planet, customer recommendations, and brand recommendations. We’re looking for brand/products that: a) align with our mission of inspiring more active, adventurous, and stylish lives, and b) provide good value relative to competing products in the category.
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SB: Your email newsletters seem to be read and appreciated more than just about any email. I know I really love to read them, even if I don’t like the products in that specific email. What is your approach and why do you think that they are so much more appreciated than an average email newsletter?
AF: When Richard and I worked in investment banking, one of our favorite emails to receive was Weekend Sherpa, a guide to outdoor adventures in Northern California. The newsletter would hit our inbox each Thursday and it was like Christmas morning when we received that thing.
With Huckberry, we wanted to create a similar newsletter — one that would inspire our readers with cool, new products and stories. That’s the seed from which the Huckberry newsletter ultimately grew, and we still write as if we’re writing to that old version of ourselves — locked up in a cubicle and yearning adventure.
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SB: Has running Huckberry given the two of you more of an opportunity to be adventuresome?
AF: Absolutely! We recently returned from a two week trip to New Zealand and Australia where we spelunked caves, skied volcanoes, fished crater lakes, spearfished [see picture below of Richard], surfed, hunted, camped, attended an Aussie Rules Football final, hiked and more. Our friends and brand partners at Bellroy — one of our favorite brands on the planet — hosted us. That’s an adventure that would have never come about if we hadn’t started Huckberry.
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SB: What is your advice to young people who are in a job that they may not feel passionate about but have another business idea they want to pursue? What do you feel the two of you did right, and what were some avoidable mistakes that you made?
AF: Get after it. Do it. But do it for the right reasons — because you genuinely believe in your mission and think that world needs your product/business. Know that when you launch, you wont know for years — YEARS! — whether you have a truly sustainable business or not. So you better be committed.
As far as what we did right, we were pretty lucky in that we ended up being great partners. We both came from a finance background so you’d think that we would have too much overlap in skillset and passion, but after a few months we learned that Rich naturally gravitated towards the business side while I gravitated toward the creative side. Other things we did right included: moving quickly and decisively (by not worrying about problems that we didn’t have), acting frugally (we worked out of apartments for the first 6 months and did every role in the company), and creatively (we didn’t have money to spend on paid advertising so we built our membership by partnering with blogs on an affiliate basis).
*Bootstrapped – A situation in which an entrepreneur starts a company with little capital. An individual is said to be boot strapping when he or she attempts to found and build a company from personal finances or from the operating revenues of the new company. (Source: Investopedia)