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PARACHUTE’S Ariel Kaye shares an early mistake that every female founder can avoid too

Today on the show we are learning from Ariel Kaye, the founder of PARACHUTE.

PARACHUTE is a modern lifestyle brand committed to making you feel at home. Founded in 2014, it began as an online-only, direct-to-consumer brand with a curated assortment of impeccable bedding products. They've since expanded their product offerings into many areas of the home - including bath essentials, baby, rugs, even a mattress.

Today they have 9 brick-and-mortar retail around the US and plans to expand into more than 30 by the end of next year. In this ep we’re chatting through those first few years of building this business, an early mistake she made on getting started and the channels you might not have considered that are working well today.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

Ariel, hi, Hello. Welcome to the Female Startup Club podcast. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to jump in and talk all things Parachute with you. I always love to start by getting you to give the elevator pitch for your brand. Sure. So parachute is a modern home essentials brand. We design and manufacture all sorts of cozy products for every room in your home. We've been around for about eight years and are really passionate about creating a more comfortable home. Everyone needs a more comfortable home. I feel like the pandemic has showed us that we need luxury in every, every corner of the house these Days. Yeah, it's so true. I mean our homes in the past, you know, 18 months have been really working on overdrive.

00:04:29Edit We talk a lot about how our home has become the center of activity in a way that probably none of us had ever expected. It would be, you know, it's our place of entertainment, our place for working out for taking care of ourself for work. You know, if you have kids for child care, I mean it's just, it's really checking a lot of boxes right now, which is intense. Yes, I feel that and it makes the need to be comfortable even that much more important. Absolutely 100%. We have like this problem at the moment with our mattress and we were on to the third or fourth mattress that we're trying and it's just been such a disaster not having that like clear, amazing sleep every night and it's driving me absolutely insane. And it's like we have all the other corners of the house sorted except the mattress, which to me is like the most important thing. I was about to say it really is the most important thing. It's the foundation to all things, comfort in your home. I always say that if you really, really care about your sleep experience, you have to think about the mattress 100%.

00:05:32Edit I've never had a bad experience in my life and then all of a sudden it's like, you know, just disaster after disaster. But anyway, I digress. Let's go back to the early beginnings uh circa 2014, when you were getting started with the brand, what was kind of getting you excited about working in this space and where does the actual, where does the story start? Yeah, so I've been really obsessed with home and interior design for as long as I can remember and I think, you know, it really started quite earlier than when I actually launched the business um in 2000 and six when I started an interior design blog. Um and I was helping friends decorate their homes for fun. So becoming a super consumer in the space shopping all the time. Really. Getting a better sense of what the market looks like and what products were available to purchase. Um I was working in advertising at the time that I was like starting to really come up with the concept of parachute. But um, I had reached a point in my career where I was really wanting to have a more bigger impact in the work that I was doing.

00:06:34Edit I was feeling a little bit discouraged by the big agency world and wanted to be in a smaller environment like I said, have a bigger impact. Really do something that I was very passionate about. And so I had one of those Aha moments that you know, many people have when they're getting ready to embark on this kind of journey. Um where I realized, you know, I'd spent all this time learning how to build brands and connect with customers and figure out how to motivate and inspire them. But then I also was really passionate about home and design And it was something that you know, I was good at and people were looking to me for advice and you know, and so I, I thought why not merge these interests and you know, if not now when Mm Hmm. And so was this in 2016 this was closer to 20. This was closer to the launch. So, you know, started this blog in 2006 works in advertising. Um that's when I was in grad school and then worked in advertising for many years. And then you know, made this decision that I was going to do something more entrepreneurial By I would say mid 2012.

00:07:38Edit And by early 2013 I had left my job and had this idea for parachute somewhat baked. But you know, it took a while to get to fully be Oh my God, wow. Okay. So you leave your job before you kind of even gotten started, Can you talk to us about those very early days? Like what gave you the courage to be like, okay, I'm going to go all in and what were those early steps to going all in. So, you know, I often say that that was probably one of my mistakes that I made early on. I was so passionate about this idea and so overwhelmed with this idea that I was you know, less engaged at work. And I was all of a sudden, you know, like finding myself, you know, in like endless, like, like just like trying to read and talk to people And I was just I was very distracted from what I was actually supposed to do and what I was being paid to do at my job. And so, you know, I had a pretty idealized version of what starting a business would look like, I thought I would, you know, I have an idea, I would raise money, I'd be able to pay myself in a few months, like it was just gonna like all fall into place very seamlessly, which of course never happens, but I decided, you know, I was living in new york at the time, I had been thinking about moving back to Los Angeles where I'm from and so things just started happening, I just decided, you know, I wanna I'm gonna raise money, I'm going to start this business, I want to move back to L.

00:08:59Edit A. And it felt like you know, why not throw my entire life up in the air all at once and just see where it lands. But you know, when I look back at those times, I definitely did not need to leave my job that early. You know, I was like the very early ideation stage. Um and you know, there was there was definitely enough time in the day to be thinking about, you know, to have a full time job and be kind of conceptualizing what this business was going to look like, but you know, you live and learn. Um and so I I left my job in february and within the month I was in europe visiting factories to see how these products were made to meet with potential manufacturers, I was putting together like the framework of a pitch deck and a business plan, which I had never done before. So it was quite comical and you know, not so buttoned up and polished, but it was helpful to kind of just put numbers down on the page and start thinking about what this actually looked like. And I did have a few friends who, you know, we're mentors throughout this time for me to, and had, you know, been in early stage companies and had started their own companies and so they were really helpful and guiding me on this passion and did you go out and raise straight away or did you bootstrap for awhile?

00:10:14Edit What was the kind of funding and financing path in those early years? So I did have an early investor who essentially paid for my trip to europe as kind of an early investment and um, and got a few friends to invest. So this little group of friends together put in about, give me about $30,000 and so that was sort of the first amount of funding that I had that allowed me to go to europe, it allowed me to start building a website and then I joined an accelerator program close to the end of that year. So end of 2000 and 13 and with that capital, I was able to, by my first round of inventory and get the business up and running when you think back to that time, what were the kind of hurdles that you were going through to get the brand into the world, oh my gosh, just about everything, I mean the highs and the like pies and lows um you know could happen in the course of a five minute period, you know, there were moments where I was felt so confident, so empowered by this decision to leave my life behind and to build this business and I felt so much enthusiasm and passion for what I you know new could be something special and then you know a minute later I would be completely overwhelmed with all of the decisions that I had to make, I was completely overwhelmed with how to import products and how to get boxes and how to you know get late, I mean just like everything was, I was in, over my head, I mean I have never worked in retail before, I had never worked in you know design or manufacturing, I mean everything was new to me and so you know the to do list was was so endless and so I you know, I was, I had had some really hard days um and I was a team of one, so you know, I had moved back to Los Angeles and left this life that I built for myself in New York for almost 10 years and you know felt very alone and didn't have a partner to do this, with so I felt just like the weight of the world, it seemed on my shoulders, but finding a network, finding people to talk to and then, you know, ultimately joining this accelerator program where I was then surrounded by other people who were also trying to get businesses off the ground, really helped me feel less alone.

00:12:30Edit You're saying so many things that resonate with me at the moment, like I'm in the process of building a non Elk wine company and I've never done anything in the beverage space before. I don't know about, you know, shipping glass bottles across the world and all these different things that I'm starting to learn and just be like, oh my God, I'm constantly saying to myself like, what am I doing? This is so tricky and so overwhelming and you have to take a step back and just feel like, okay, one step at a time, like just focus on what is today, what is tomorrow and everything that you're saying gives me hope. I think it's so much about, you know, you have these, like when you have this like really, you know, 3000 miles, you, you know, you like look at everything that needs to get done and it's, you know, if you can kind of map out what needs to happen on a daily basis or a weekly basis and set more achievable goals, you know, it starts to become more manageable. But yeah, I mean, I was way, way in, over my head um and you know, and I think what I learned from that experience which has um you know been one of my strengths as I really was able to identify, you know, what my strengths were and where my weaknesses were and what I needed to learn and what I could learn on my own and what I really needed to hire for and like who I needed to surround myself with in order to be successful.

00:13:49Edit And I've since the beginning have had a real self awareness around what I'm good at and and what I'm not, you know, and what I can bring to the table and where I want to learn from others. And so I have not been shy at all when it comes to asking for help and I always share that, that's you know, so important when I talk to people that are kind of in the earlier stage of this process, like being vulnerable and saying I need help is like so not a weakness, it's a strength because ultimately it gets you further along the process for you who were those kind of early hires that we're able to kind of offset like your skills and your strengths. Sure, so um I really focused my early hires around finance, operations planning and and some content creation, um we were able to outsource things like web design and marketing a bit at the early stages. Um but really, you know, I hired people with a lot of financial and kind of operational backgrounds because I absolutely did not have that experience and I felt way more confident in my ability to tell the story and be creative and think about marketing tactics and design products even though that was also new to me, but I had a real aesthetic passion um and and a point of view there but I definitely leaned on people um and hire people who could, you know build models and think about planning allocation, just like think about how to get the products from Point A to Point B, you know how to get the lights up and running in our first office, you know like how to start get a distribution center going and so I mean those early days it's important to hire people that are flexible and are happy to wear many hats and you know get their hands in lots of different parts of the business and I mean it's such a great learning experience too.

00:15:32Edit But yeah, I definitely my background is was not in anything that has to do with numbers and so I knew that that would be a big part of our success. That sounds like me. Yeah. Yeah, so that was really where I focused my first hires people that could really make sure that the business was running smoothly. Um So I'd love to talk about that early time kind of like around launch into the first few years and what you were doing to kind of prove out the concept of the market and find your first customers that were outside of your immediate friends and family. Yeah, so I mean I started my career in pr and I really did believe that using press to tell a story was a really powerful tool. Again this is like almost eight years ago. So instagram was not where it is today and you know, the landscape looked quite differently. Um But I you know, we had limited resources from a capital perspective. And so um I decided to invest in P. R. As our first kind of marketing strategy because I knew that those beginning days people love telling that story.

00:16:41Edit Um and there's a real appetite for these new businesses that are doing things differently at least at the time. You know the Director Consumer World was relatively fresh and um and there weren't a ton of businesses that were operating in that space and with that model, so I really relied heavily on pr and you know that kind of organic media that was happening to tell our story and to to reach new customers. And so we would get you know a press hit and various publications and blogs and we would see, you know, some of them would just spike sales and you know, we get all this traffic and uh you know, those were like our key events in the first year that allowed us to reach customers because it was, it was a really new concept then, and so people were very, you know what we kept hearing for customers is that, oh, I've been waiting for a brand like this, like, you know, there's all these places to buy sheets and towels, but they're mostly furniture stores and these products are really an afterthought and they're not high quality and they don't, you know, look new and fresh and modern and so, um, you know, people were excited, too excited yeah, to have a, have a new brand in the mix, and how has that evolved over the years in terms of like, what are your kind of key milestones when you look back that leapt you forward, or kind of propelled the brand into what it is today.

00:18:05Edit It's a good question, I mean, I think it's been, there's a few different things, I mean, introducing new products have been really big for us, I mean, we, I knew from the beginning that I really wanted to build this home lifestyle brand, and so I knew that we had to, you know, expand our assortment to be in many rooms of the home in order to create that lifestyle feel. And so Yeah, I think introducing new products, um we're big milestones for us and gave us a lot to talk about as well as introducing our retail stores, um we now have 13 stores and our opening quite a few more. But those early stores, um also we're big milestones for us a lot is to connect with the community, and and really think about how we build relationships with our customers in a different way. But yeah, I would say, you know, as a really product focused business products have been really important milestones that have helped us, you know, kind of get to the next level um and increase that lifetime value like for one customer over time because they already trust you, they already know you.

00:19:10Edit Exactly, Exactly. And so, you know, it actually took us about two years before we moved out of the bedroom into the bath. And so in that two years we had established, you know a small but loyal customer base and those customers were wanting more and so, you know, we we gave them what they wanted, Gave them what they wanted. I've read something crazy like you're introducing 30 more stores or something insane by the end of next year. That's crazy. Yeah, we are really doubling down on retail. We should have about 30 total by the end of next year, maybe a few more if we can do it. But yes, we really see an incredible halo effect. So you know, the way that we see people shopping online in areas and in neighborhoods where we have stores is really is really, you know quite important and you know, we see people that want to browse in store and then shop online and feel the fabrics Exactly and go and buy online. Yeah, and we, you know, we offer appointment shopping and we do some like different kind of services like buy online pickup at store and so you know, we're trying to think about how we can create the best shopping experience for our customers depending on how they prefer to shop, especially given The past 18 months um and how things have changed.

00:20:31Edit So It's down here, back to hype you up about all things crm with a little message from our friends at hubspot, a crm platform takes any customer interaction and transforms that data into valuable insights as the world's leading crm platform, hubspot is rolled out over 50 plus integrations over the past year to help businesses connect with customers like never before. The latest suite of customer centric tools to help your business show your customers. A whole lot of love includes seamless payment tools, Crm powered CMS, customer portals and feedback surveys. Seamless payment tools. Mean payment links and recurring payments can be directly embedded into hubspot is quoting tools and emails for easy delivery and collection from customers and Crm powered CMS means both your marketers and developers can personalize the customer experience and ensure all engagements are timely and relevant. Learn more about how hubspot Crm platform can help build, maintain and grow your customer relationships at hubspot dot com When you look at your marketing mix now, you know, with the introduction of platforms like Tiktok, what are the kinds of things that are like really working for you that are kind of like undervalued and you know, when we think about Facebook and Instagram ads and this kind of thing, everyone's saying, you know, customer acquisition costs are going up, ads are getting so much harder after the IOS, 14 updates.

00:21:58Edit Are there any channels that you're like leaning into more because they're a bit more under the radar undervalued? Um you know, we, over the past, I would say two years really got more excited about kind of more traditional channels. So things like our catalog have been very successful. We also are now doing some more streaming tv and, and kind of video, I would say that pretty early on, I identified just how important would be to have a diversified marketing mix and you know, was very concerned about being too dependent on any given channel. Um, and so we have done that over the past, you know, many years now. Um, and so we have not been impacted as much on the IOS changes because we just weren't as heavily dependent on facebook as a channel. But yes, I would say that, you know, and this is not new news, but a lot of the traditional channels are, are working really well for us and you know, especially we think about the most effective channels being channels where we can tell our story.

00:23:03Edit And so a lot of those channels lend themselves to some really beautiful storytelling. Do you think it's also because besides the storytelling factor? Because I so see that do you think it's also because those places are less crowded now or that just as crowded as before, but it's just truly where your audience is and that's why it works so well. So if you had said six months ago, I probably would have said they were less crowded. And I think they were also where our customers were um are are I think they're getting really crowded. And so we're thinking about, you know, how do we evolve our catalog so that they stand out more because you know, there's these catalog drop days in the U. S. And I mean my my mailbox is, you know, it's like all of a sudden I got stacks, catalogs and it's hard to stand out. You know, and I think when there's such like significant penetration and in one channel there's a lot of noise and catalogs become quicker to dispose and to toss. So um you know, I think we'll see a lot of people are starting to move towards these more traditional channels now.

00:24:07Edit So I think the secrets out. You know what I would love to receive as a catalog. And I'm just thinking out loud here is like because I received a lot of catalogs to, right? And you're like, oh yes. You know, same, same liquid ever look the same, not looks the same in terms of the actual content inside like pieces of paper. Imagine if you just sent like many shades like of your best fabric or something with like a little letter or something on it. I would love to receive, especially because I love sheets and like, I love things that feel good, but if someone sent me like a really beautiful piece of fabric and was like, these, these are what our bed sheets are made of. I reckon I'd be like, where do I get that signed me up. That would be so fun and so random. I wanted to ask you, obviously the landscape has changed so much between 2014 today if you were starting this business again tomorrow, what do you think you would do differently in terms of like, spend more money here and less money there or not waste money there and that kind of thing. Well, that's a tough question. I mean, there's so much, I would have done differently.

00:25:11Edit I think the way that you can build awareness about your brand before even launching brand is so powerful now. And so I think I probably would have spent a lot more time getting creative with just content. Um, and getting the word out, you know, before I even launched a product to build that interest and intrigue and to kind of drum up some excitement about the launch. I don't know, I mean, I'm pretty pumped with how this business has been built and so, you know, in in many ways, I also feel like it it unraveled in, unfolded perfectly. That's not to say there weren't a million mistakes made along the way. But you know, I think the goal has always been, how do we build deeper relationships with the customer and how do we create trust so that our customers are loyal and turn to us for both advice and inspiration and education. And, and we become like an important part of your home. And so I'm sure there are other ways that we could have invested and, you know, I think just to give one kind of example of mistakes, I mean, early on, and maybe this is a mistake, maybe this is just kind of the way it has to be.

00:26:20Edit But you know, we we did various, you know, after I raised a first real round of capital, you know, one of the things are investors encouraged us was to spend real money and marketing channels to see what worked and what didn't work. And, you know, some of the channels totally bombed and, and I think that if I had to do it again, I maybe would have been a little bit more, I don't know, just, uh, cautious with how I was testing and because it is important to see what works and what doesn't work, but I think you can do so in ways that are also not a small leftist exact somehow. Yeah, I mean, I think you learned so much from, you know, the mistakes you make and you know, my biggest lessons have been in times where we've had these like really challenging times and challenges to overcome and I always try to reframe every mistake or every challenge as an opportunity because it really is, you know, it's cheesy and cliche as that sounds like that's where we grow and that's where we've learned the most about our customer. That's where we've actually been able, you know, it's like when you're able to improve and evolve and and to see just like how much you can constantly pushing yourself to do better.

00:27:30Edit I think the customer feels that too and people really admire that as a business tactic versus just focusing on growth all the time. 100% so true. You said something a moment ago around really focusing on building loyalty with your customers and creating deep connections and this is probably a really stupid question, but like how do you actually do that? How do you focus on building those connections and making a customer stay loyal with you over the years? So there's a few ways that we think about doing it deliberately. One is on our social channels, so just being, you know, having a conversation and a dialogue with our customers on those channels so that we can get to know them and, you know, encourage sharing and just, you know, there are so many ways that you can actually have a conversation with customers online and in our retail stores to pre covid. We hosted a ton of events or workshops and speakers series and in all of our stores and those stores are really very alive, um, and designed to be so much more than just the transaction.

00:28:37Edit And so we got to know a lot of our customers intimately in that way. And that was also really awesome and really fun. You know, I personally tried to, you know, go to conferences and do speaking engagements and try to just like get to know people as much as I can as well, but when we think about the content that we create, whether it's, you know, on our blog or in our social channels, it's really around this lens of how do we be both educational and inspirational and I think that's what people are looking for and it helps, you know, build that relationship, but you know, we focus so much on making sure that we're putting the best product out there. And and I think that that consistency is also how you build trust and loyalty if you're not able to have, you know, a real in person connection, but, you know, we take all of our customer experience interactions really seriously. We've got an amazing team there, um, you know, that's so helpful and able to, you know get our customers what they need and what they want and people, you know, the bar is set so low unfortunately because there's so many negative experiences both online and offline and I think you know however we can surprise and delight and you know, make people feel good is that's the goal and I feel like that's a really big one that gets forgotten just so much of the time is like how much bad customer service there are from certain brands out there and how much they're like the lack of surprise and delight.

00:30:05Edit Like it actually shocks me sometimes when, you know sometimes you just receive like a bad experience, but how how is this? You know, 2021, like why aren't you doing more to surprise and delight and to keep those loyal customers loyal blows my mind. Absolutely. I know huge opportunity for everyone listening. It is a huge opportunity. Yeah, it is, and you know, I think, you know, a little goes a long way when it comes to that kind of stuff, so I think it's just, it's just, and I think it's also important though for customers to remember that there's real people sitting on the other side of the screen as Well. and and like being kind and thoughtful in terms of how you engage with brands is also really important, 100%. What do you think is important advice for female entrepreneurs coming into 20, I mean I think it's I think there's never been a better time to be an entrepreneur and you know, we can talk about being a female entrepreneur, but you know, female led companies and women led companies are really just doing so tremendously well um both in the private and public markets right now.

00:31:21Edit And so I think it's really exciting to see, I'm so inspired by so many female leaders and entrepreneurs, but you know, I think there's so much appetite for for new shopping experiences for new types of brands, for new ways to connect and I encourage people to to try and to you're not trying to do um and to really make make things happen and make magic happen. And also say, you know, focus on building a strong network and reach out to people that you think can be helpful because one of the things that I've been consistently impressed and just you know, inspired by is um especially female founders are their willingness to be helpful and to take a call and to respond to an email and um so 100%, thank you so much. I love that we wrap up at the end of every episode with a series of six quick questions, some of which I might have asked, some of which I might not have, but I asked them all the same at the end. So question # one is what's your why?

00:32:24Edit Why are you doing what you're doing? Because I love sleeping. How many hours of sleep do you get a Not, Not enough, I've got two kids under three. What's my why? To create a comfortable home, But um and also to uh to show my kids just what's possible when you dream? I love that Question. Number two is what do you think has been the number one marketing moment that's made the business pop well, um if you go way back when 2000 and 14, right after we launched, we had a very small mention in the Wall Street Journal which drove an incredible amount of traffic and sales and was like the gift that kept giving for years. So I would say that that was a huge turning point for us. Little blurb, A Little one, not a big one now is smaller, that's cool. I love that Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading or listening to or subscribing to?

00:33:26Edit That's worth mentioning. Not enough to be perfectly honest. I tend to only read books when I am like away from life and on a vacation, which also doesn't happen nearly as much I'm trying to listen to more podcasts, but you know, I would say that on a day to day basis, I'm reading the new york times and some blogs, business blogs and right now I'm actually really trying to educate myself in the public market. So I'm like reading a lot of interesting blogs and coverage over the public markets and taking into s once and things like that. Oh, is there any business blogs that you have on the top of your head? That's worth mentioning that we can link in our show notes. I have, I'm trying to remember what some of them were called. I have, I'm on some newsletters, dig them up, I'll take them up and get back to you. Okay, that would be great question number four is how do you win the day? What are your am mpm rituals and habits that keep you feeling happy and successful and motivated?

00:34:30Edit Quality time with my kids. Um working out and long walks, Nothing clears your head better than a long walk. Yes, I agree or anything in nature. I guess I miss morning, I missed the Australian nature in London. London is a bit of a tough one for me. Question # five is if you were given $1,000 of no strings attached grant money, where would you spend that in the business and it's kind of to highlight your most important spend of a dollar because I know it's not a lot of money. I take my team out to pizza, team bonding, team bonding so important and last question question number six, how do you deal with failure? What is your mindset and approach when things don't go to plan, I like to feel it. You know, I identify the feelings that I'm feeling. I try to recognize that those are okay feelings to have and then I try to problem solving and figure out how to reframe that feeling of failure into something that's positive so that I can keep, keep the show going, keep the show going.

00:35:40Edit Ariel thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show today and share your learnings and your journey so far with Parachute. I'm excited to see what happens next. Thank you so much. My pleasure. Of course.



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