Joining me on the show today is Melanie Travis, Founder of swimwear label Andie.
Andie is a swimwear company that makes the swimsuit shopping experience for women incredible through a tailored fit finder, a desirable returns policy and relatable content.
In this episode we’re talking about how Mel launched a swimwear label in a competitive market, the process of validating her idea through a crowdfunding campaign, how an equity deal with her manufacturer enabled her to scale up in a really big way and the steps the company took to grow their Instagram from 12k to almost 100k in just 2 years.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
So my name is Melanie Travis. I'm the founder and CEO of Andie Swim Andy is a global direct consumer swimwear brand for women. We launched in april 2017. So we are coming up on our four year anniversary which feels crazy um sitting where we are today and it's been a wild ride.
00:04:37Edit Love that. Love a wild ride sounds interesting, Tell you all about it, great. I want to go back to your life before Andy swim to find out what you're up to and what got you thinking about starting a business in the first place. Yeah, so I had a bit of an unusual background, although maybe everybody says that I'm not sure what normal is anymore. I, you know, I went to film school for a masters in film directing after I graduated from college and I thought I'd be a film director as it turns out. I learned a lot about how to make movies and I mean frankly I'm now applying those skills to being a ceo rather than a director, but I think there's a lot of transferable skills. So I obviously I left the film industry after a few years of making short films that tour different film festivals and I decided to try my hand at the startup world had become somewhat disillusioned with the film industry and wanted to get on this like jump on this train that was really very exciting in new york city at the time with all these startups popping up. So I started my career in the startup world at a company called four square and then I moved over to a company called Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform for creative projects and then from Kickstarter, I went to bark box, it's a monthly subscription of toys and treats for dogs.
00:05:49Edit All of these companies have raised over $100 million. So very well funded venture backed companies and as I was sort of growing in those industries are at those companies, I was just sort of like understanding the pieces that were coming together like okay, you have an idea, you raise money, you figure out how to monetize your idea, you hide. Like it was just kind of like a road map and I was really excited by it and I thought I want to try doing this. It's kind of like, you know, you have a vision for a film, you bring people together to make the movie here, if you have an idea for a business and you bring people together behind your vision. And so I got really excited about the idea of starting something more. So I would say than like a specific nagging, you know, like passion around a specific problem. And I went looking for an idea because I knew I wanted to start something. So that's sort of, I came to it first from like I want to be a ceo, I want to start a company, not the other way. And as I was thinking about the landscape, those sort of problems in my life that I could apply a business onto. I happened to go on a work retreat to a lake in upstate new york and I struggled to find a swimsuit and I was like ah ha swimsuits that's a category that frankly sucks for female consumers.
00:06:55Edit It's hard to find something. I was hearing all the women on my trip complaining about their swimsuits. And so it was really the light bulb moment where I was like, great, I'm going to start my own swimwear company, that's all swimwear shopping and I'm going to raise money and I'm going to do this whole thing and now here we are, and now here you are. And I guess it's really interesting coming from something like Kickstarter, which is bringing in tech, it's also bringing in the creative industries and bringing in lots of different ideas that you could see either flourish and come to life or fail and nipped in the bud kind of thing. I'm wondering what were the learnings from that time? And if once you had that idea of, okay, it's gonna be swimwear. If you were like thinking back to Kickstarter and taking specific learnings from there or from black box. Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think both Kickstarter and bark box were really influential in the way that I went about starting handy. You know, Kickstarter, I was exposed to so many creators who had a creative idea for a project, it could be a piece of hardware, it could be a puzzle of, you know, whatever. And I'll just sort of throwing their ideas out into the world and trying to get it started and I was really inspired by that and I saw that, like you also don't need the perfect idea.
00:08:02Edit it's good enough to just think of something and get it out there and I think a lot of people spend so much time worrying about just like the initial nut of the idea and I think I Kickstarter, I learned like just get it out there doesn't have to be, you know, what is the expression perfect is the enemy of good, something like that. And then I think at bark box park boxes, it's a very entrepreneurial place and you were always encouraged to develop new business ideas that could help dogs and they were on a sort of classic venture model, raised a series seed and then the series abc, et cetera and now the news that they are going public just dropped like a week or so ago, so hugely successful startup story and it was a consumer facing products. So I also learned a lot in the trenches of like literally how to use facebook to market products to consumers. So it's really a combination of kickstart and bark box that helped propel and these early years sounds incredible. I hope you had some nice equity in bark box, that sounds exciting. Yes, that's a good day. Yeah, I'm sure it was.
00:09:03Edit Um, so when you have the idea you have the light bulb moment and you're thinking your point of difference is to solve this problem of, you know, a terrible experience shopping swimmer online, How did you then go about validating that idea and who were you turning to for feedback and you know, to further nut out the idea. Yeah, well I started with a facebook post just saying like ladies out there, friends of mine, tell me about your swimwear shopping habits and stuff. And that facebook post got a lot of comments and engagement. And one thing I had learned at bark box is that people go crazy for their dogs. They receive a huge amount of engagement, which as you probably know, engagement around the topic really helps the algorithm on platforms like facebook and instagram and so it can help add to be more efficient, it can help create a community around your brand. And when I was first starting Andy I posted on facebook asking about people swimwear shopping habits and the level of engagement was like, oh my God, women are really passionate about swim in a similar way that people can be passionate about their dogs. So that had some sort of like green check marks, that like this is something that could be built on digital social platforms.
00:10:09Edit It's not like a boring topic which would be harder to build. And then more directly, I actually didn't do a Kickstarter project, but I did a crowdfunding project. I didn't use Kickstarter for a variety of reasons, including the fact that like the female fashion category on Kickstarter is just like this is not where natural discovery happens. And so I figured, I mean Kickstarter takes a fee, which is a good business model, but it didn't make sense for a fashion thing. So anyway, I did a crowd funding campaign for it and I was basically like it very much modeled on Kickstarter and it was like, look, I have this idea, it's going to be a direct to consumer swimwear brand was classic silhouettes at an approachable price point. If you're interested back the project, if I get $10,000 then I will proceed because that will be validation that enough women are interested in a swimsuit from a company like this. And if I don't then that'll be my market signal that like now is not the time and the crowdfunding campaign was a huge success, raised a lot of money on it? Well a lot is relative, I think maybe doubled the goal or something, maybe about $20,000 over 15 days, something like that.
00:11:10Edit And it was enough for me to say, okay, I think there's something here and that's actually when I gave my notice at bark box and I said I'm going to leave my full time job and really take the plunge, wow. And did you in that time when you were launching the crowdfunding campaign, were you actively pushing it, was it like, you know, lots of money behind the campaign or was it just kind of put it out there and see how it goes. No, I think there's no such thing as put it out there and see how it goes, even if you have the best idea in the world, it requires sweat equity legwork, A lot of pushing, it doesn't have to require a lot of money. I did not spend a lot of money on that project. I took my iphone, I filmed myself talking about my personal struggles with shopping for swim, I showed some mood boards, I was thinking about, I produced the whole project very cheaply. Maybe I spent like 500 bucks on it if even and then I really pushed it. So I would email people, I would email all my friends and asked all of them to please send the project to three friends and then like two days later I would send here's copy to put on your facebook, please do that.
00:12:13Edit And then I said like, you know, for two days, any pledges to this project, I will match for the donation to planned parenthood. I was constantly every two days, I had basically an initiative going when you launch a project, there's a lot of momentum on Kickstarter or any crowdfunding platform, You get a lot of momentum, people are excited, you're starting something, but after a couple of days you enter the Valley of Despair or whatever and nobody seems to care about your project anymore and you're not getting any more pledges and then the last three days typically are like really hot again, like it's about to end, Oh my God. And so the trick to having a successful crowdfunding platform is to avoid that valley of despair and like keep the momentum going. And so having learned a lot of tools of the trade from working at Kickstarter, I knew for example, I'm not gonna do 30 days, that's way too long, I'll do 15 days, it does not mean you're going to get any less money, it just means you actually have the ability to keep your momentum going every day, more opportunity to go viral, you know, stuff like that. So I used a lot of like tools in the toolbox of crowd funding to keep the momentum going, and I worked on it every single day and not a day went by that.
00:13:13Edit I didn't post something about it, talk about it, you know, I think my friends were happy when it was over, but you know what? It was successful totally. That's really interesting when you said you sent it to your friends um and you know, you asked to send to their friends, how many people did you start with? Like, what was your starting group? Was it like 100? Or was it like 1000? Or was it like 10? Um So I did a pre starting group, like 10 to 20 people the day before, and it was like, heads up, this is coming, this is something I've been working really hard on, it's coming soon, it's sort of like a V. I. P preview, I guess you could call it. And then the day it launched, it was a much bigger group. I went into my linkedin and I basically exported my contacts. And then I went through to make sure, Like, do I still know this person and like, you know, I'm linked in, you often have a lot of contacts that you don't really know, but I exported in my context. I went through to see who I actually knew and who I didn't know and that, you know, off the top of your head, you don't think about everybody in your network. So it made it a lot easier to go to linkedin. And then I emailed that group and that group was probably 150 or something. Oh, wow.
00:14:15Edit Amazing. Cool. I love that. And I'm curious to know at that point. Had you already figured out the manufacturing piece of the puzzle and you know, did you have a brand? What did you have, kind of already ready to go? Or was everything like, Okay, this is product validation that there's a fit here and get started afterwards. Somewhere in the middle of those two things. So there was a name, we had the name Andy and there was a concept and the concept at the time was it was going to be like a curated collection of one piece swimwear that was like black and navy, just like very, very curated, just like your essential black idea was like the little black dresses swimwear, but there was no website, there was no like, cohesive brand. So there was the concept. I had some initial sketches of what I had in mind. I had a mood board and a name. I didn't know where I'd be manufacturing them. I didn't know what fabric we would use. Like, I didn't know the actual, like, how it would come to life because it was really a validation of like, if you like this concept, if it's interesting to you, then I'll move on to the next step and I'll figure out how and where do you manufacture how?
00:15:18Edit Already sourced fabric? Like what are all the steps? But this was the sort of just pre step to that. And so what happens next? You launched this crowdfunding campaign, you've got the validation, you're ready to get started. How do you actually start a swimwear label? What are the next steps to get going? Yeah, so, okay, I'm taking my brain the wheels of my brain back in time to really, this was fall of 2016. So once I knew the campaign was going to work and I would have this money and I would actually be on the hook to make some swimsuits. I had to figure out how the hell to make swimsuits. Um, and so I did a few things. The first thing I did was try to find a local manufacturer nowadays we manufacture overseas in countries across asia, a little bit of south America. But back then I was like, I don't know anything about garment manufacturing. I want this to be nearby so that I can actually go to the factory and see and learn about how to produce a garment. So again, I went back to Lincoln. Lincoln was a key tool for me in the early days and I looked for anyone who had like swimwear, anything in their title, Anyone who like touched the swimwear industry and I would reach out to them and say, you know, I'm starting a swimwear brand.
00:16:29Edit I'm trying to learn everything about the industry, blah blah blah. And basically I reached out to a bunch of different people. I learned about local little boutique mom and pop manufacturers in downtown L. A. I was living in L. A. At the time and then I got in the car and I went to these boutique manufacturers and I just knock on the door and say, I'm starting a line. Do you produce swimwear? What do you need to do it? And that's how I learned. Okay, you need the sketch to turn into a tech pack, they need the tech pack to turn into a pattern and then you need to source fabric because you make adjustments based on the type of fabric. If there's more spandex in a nylon polyester, these things have impact on the fit. And so I learned a lot about fabric where to source fabric, how much fabric you need per swimsuit. I learned okay. It takes about a yard of fabric per swimsuits. If I want to make 1000 swimsuits, I need a little over 1000 yards, like just basic stuff to learn. And I basically was like, how much would it cost to make 500 swimsuits to start? How much would it cost to make 500. And I went with somewhere where the pricing was good and where they were helpful. It's a sort of full package manufacturer that could also do the tech packs and the patterns because I didn't know where I would make those and I hope this isn't getting too granular, but for anyone starting an apparel company.
00:17:37Edit No, please. I really love it. Good. Good. I think this is really useful for anyone who wants to be in the industry. It's really important. Yeah, hopefully. So yeah, I learned about the sketch to tech back to pattern to fit, sample where to source the fabric and then sort of how it all comes together and how long that takes. And so basically long story short, I signed a deal with the manufacturer to do 500 swimsuits and then I started sourcing fabric and this is so embarrassing. But the first fabric I sourced came from like joan's, which like, I don't know if you know it, but joan's, is like where you know, you're like crazy and has like a basement full of, you know, embroidery. She goes to joan's, it's not like where you source bulk fabric, which is to say that I paid way too much for the fabric in the beginning. Now I actually sourced directly from Mills, but I was just like, whatever, I need to get this done and I will pay way too much money. I also think at the beginning of a business, you don't need to worry about margins too much. I mean it's important to know that there's a path to having a good margin business, But it's okay to do things that aren't scalable in the beginning when you're proving out the concept.
00:18:38Edit So in the beginning I probably spent, I don't know, $200 to make a swimsuit that I sold for $100, which is like not a good business, but I just wanted to make a swimsuit and I was okay to invest in the learning of it. So while all the product stuff was going on and I was like, okay, we're going to need a website, I'm gonna need to be able to accept credit cards, like what goes into that. And so then I hired a freelance web designer and a freelance web developer and I put them together and I told them the vision and I was like, make a beautiful site with a nice logo at simple website that people can check out on easily and they were amazing. And so basically over the course of four months, the swimsuits were in production, the site was being built and then I started going around, you know, to tell everyone that I was going to launch a business. And how did you do that? How did you start getting the word out there and getting eyeballs on what you were doing? So I decided very early that one of the first places I would invest money outside of just the swimsuits was in pr I wanted to invest in press because I mean nobody, I was nothing and why would anybody buy a swimsuit for me?
00:19:44Edit So I wanted magazines like in style though, Glamour, I wanted these types of outlets to write about Andy to legitimize it. And then off the back of, you know, press, I'd be able to start running facebook ads and we'd start getting word of mouth and the sort of like advertising flywheel could begin turning. So I neglected to mention that there are three work streams that I was working on the fall of 2016 before we launched in april one was manufacturing, which I've just described. One was the website and brand design, which I just described. And the third was fundraising and I ended up, you know, I took that $20,000 I had raised from the crowdfunding campaign and I went to angel investors that I knew in my network from having worked at startups for a while and I raised an additional, I think $80,000 in relatively small checks, like check sizes for 10 to $20,000. So these are not big checks. And so I ended up with about 100 grand with which to do all this. And so that money went to, like I said, making overly priced swimsuits that I would sell for less and they went to obviously paying the web developer, web designer and then went to a PR agency that was the first place that I put money.
00:20:49Edit And that pR agency took me around. I got the factory to make little samples for me that I could take around two different desk side appointments in new york city with different magazine outlets. And that's really what I was working on and how I started getting the word out. Yeah, amazing. And did the press and that pr angle that you took in the beginning, did that give you enough of a lift to start the momentum? It did, yeah. Um we were in an in style article I think like two days before we launched saying like Andy in a roundup of like swimmer brands for this season and it was like, we just got wind of this new one piece company launching soon and that created a little bit of early headwind, which was great uh called tailwind, that might be called a tail wind, it was a good wind. And so that was good. And then the day we launched my pr agency and frankly it was a freelance publicist. Like this was not a big fancy agency, she did a great job and I think I told a compelling story and together when you know when we launched, I think we had vast company, we had glamour, we had in style, we had refinery 29 we had bustle entertainment, we had a lot of pieces and uh ended up having a really big launch day.
00:21:56Edit I was shocked, I was so shocked that it was working that momentum obviously dies in that first year was a struggle. But the first day I was like holy sh it, this is going to work. That's so crazy. Are you able to share like any numbers around how many swimsuits you sold on that first day or that first week or whatever in the very beginning to paint the picture? Yeah, I mean I'd be happy to if I properly remembered them. Um we um The first day we probably sold, I mean, I don't know, maybe, we I don't remember, it would have been less than 50, you know, so we're not talking like hundreds of suits, but a great amount though, I just sort of launched this business, like I clicked publish on my Shopify site and then like, I don't know, I got like 20 orders from all over the country. My first order came from a woman in Oklahoma and I was like, holy sh it like, oh my God, this is like e commerce is amazing. I just published the site on Shopify and some woman in Oklahoma found my business and ordered a swimsuit. I could not believe it and you know, maybe the number wasn't So big, although you know, if I had done 20 swimsuit today for all of the first year, I would have been really happy.
00:23:05Edit There were days where I didn't sell a single swimsuit in that first year, when you're again, you're on your momentum dies, it gets really rough, but on that first day that sort of put the wind in my sails that like, if I played this game right, it could actually work. I mean, I feel like 50 regardless is so epic. I remember when I put my, I have a side house on the jury label when I put it live, I think I sold one and I was like chuffed, like, well chuffed yeah, right? It's amazing. It's Really a profound feeling, but 50 great. Oh my goodness. Yeah, yeah. You know, you know what I mean? You sold multiple and you sold to strangers, which is so impressive. It wasn't like my mom. Yeah, that was huge, totally. I'm wondering how your marketing then started to evolve, You know, what were the grassroots efforts you were doing? What was the, what was that early hustle, like to get the momentum to continue in that first year or first years, yep, yep um yeah, so that was hard, I mean there was a period, you know, there's the early buzz that we had impressed which really helped, but then it started dying like it naturally does and the world moves on and um, so that's when I started investing in facebook.
00:24:12Edit Once I felt like we had written the pr wave, it was time to invest in paid social advertising, so facebook and instagram and so I was dabbling in there and I knew a bit from bark box, although I wasn't like hands to keyboard on that at bark box, so I had a lot to learn about how to actually navigate facebook business manager, which is a key piece of advice I give any entrepreneur learn facebook, it is not rocket science and if it's a consumer product that you sell on the internet, you will need facebook ads at some point and don't just rely on outsourcing that because that's going to be where you know the vast majority of your revenue comes from and just learn it, take the time, read the blogs, learn facebook manager. So I did that and then I was running ads eventually I did hire someone to help me scale facebook, but I was doing it myself in the beginning and you learn a lot about, you know, I made some early key discoveries, like a certain style when I advertised it, a certain style and black on facebook would work really well and it would sell really well but other styles wouldn't. And so when it came time to place a reorder, I was literally using the marketing data from facebook to order the swimsuits.
00:25:15Edit I was only ordering the ones where the CPM impressions, all that stuff where it worked really well on facebook. So I have more of those. And then I also learned things about the direction of the brand. Like I spent a lot of money on a really fancy lifestyle shoe with models and none of those ads performed well. But the ads is like me and my friend's backyard with my friends with our iphones worked really well. And so I was suddenly like, okay, this has to be like a grassroots like from the ground up community based inclusive swimwear brand that like mostly makes black one pieces that was just like, you know, and I learned that in the first summer through marketing A I was picking up speed selling more suits and B. It made sure that the way that I grew the company was informed and not just you don't have to stick a finger in the air and hope you're making the right decisions. You can actually use the data. Yeah. And I actually really feel that on your website, something I really enjoyed was the review section. You know, I love that you post like the height of the women, the size of the bra, like the pant size and that they show pictures of themselves in the costumes.
00:26:17Edit And I really love scrolling through because I was like, oh yeah, cool, okay. I get it. Like this is amazing and you really can see, I can really feel that on the website for sure. Thank you. I'm glad. What's working for you now? What's your biggest driver for growth at the moment? I think, I mean like you identified those early discoveries I made in facebook marketing in our first summer have really grown to be the key engine of the business today. So this idea of inclusivity, we don't really use models. We use what we call micro influencers. People who are, you know, have a lot of authenticity in their communities and we pay them to take photos for us and to talk about and to their communities and I would say so like micro influencers are a key driver of our growth. We continue to be pretty heavily invested in facebook and instagram advertising. It's just a good channel for us. I know facebook gets a lot of ship deservedly so for a lot of reasons, but at the end of the day, I think especially a swimwear brand, it's such a visual thing. It's such a happy lifestyle.
00:27:19Edit You know, often when you're wearing a swimsuit, it's because you're somewhere that you're having fun with friends or you know, outside which is one of the only safe things you can do these days being outside? I mean and so you know instagram is such a visual medium that it just works really well for us. So we invested on facebook and instagram we make sure the content we're putting out there is true to our origins. We don't higher traditional skinny models. We work with, you know, a whole array of individuals and that is what works for us. Then. We do a lot of it. Like we have a very sharp email, you know strategy and campaign, we have good smS marketing. I mean now we have, I was just looking at the beginning of the year so we've done all of our budgeting for 20, and I can't believe how many agencies and partners we use now. But like I'm also really thankful this business has grown so so so much that um It's like it's a whole, I mean I like I have 20 employees now, I can't believe and I look at team meetings, I think about those days when it was me in my living room, you know like Just like trudging around New York to talk to press or trying some ads on Facebook and I have 20 amazing women on the team and like probably a dozen agencies and I just can't believe that this thing has really grown to where it is today?
00:28:31Edit Gosh, that sounds so incredible. Are there any key, you know, Softwares or platforms that you want to give a shout out to that really work well for the business. Yeah. I mean I don't think one thing I've got, I've always said to my team and that we've adhered to as we've grown Andy is don't reinvent the wheel on things that work like be innovative with the product, be innovative with content but don't try to reinvent the wheel and like platforms that work. So there's nothing like really groundbreaking to say. We use, we use Attentive for SMS marketing, we use clay vo for email marketing. We use Shopify as our point of sale. We we we use basically we use Yat po for you know those reviews that you mentioned, we basically use like all the best in class sort of tech stack for an e commerce consumer brand. But I think that the content that we put out on those platforms is what makes us different and cool or whatever totally. And I love the fit finder on the website as well. I went through the process and was like, yeah this is really nifty and like what I liked specifically about it was you know, you enter your email, you press that little arrow and then it brings up the suit for you but then it also says and we've also added it to your car in case you want to check out.
00:29:43Edit And I thought that was a clever little dishes. Yeah. Yeah. I'm sure that works wonders for you guys. Yeah, it does fit finder is I mean, you know, one thing we've learned over the years is how important fit is for swim. It's just like, it's different than any other category of apparel because I mean I'm wearing this like kind of baggy hot pink hoodie right now and I don't know if it fits me. It's a little bit big. I'm sure I could size up or down and it would be fine. But swim is different. A swimsuit has to fit well. So we've invested a lot across the site in things that help women find their best fit. Like the fit finder quiz. And then like listing the exact measurements of women so that people know exactly what they're looking at and compare with how they think that would fit on them. And yeah, fit is just key. And so once we think it also like it returns is a real part of the swimwear business, returns are probably higher and swim than they are in like the t shirt business. And so it's also important from a bottom line perspective to get a woman in the right fit. And so that's why we added to her cart because she buys something that doesn't fit. There's no chance she's keeping the swimsuit.
00:30:45Edit Mm Yeah, it's very clever marketing and I think it really taps into like the true consumer behavior of a woman buying swimwear, which I? Which I love Going back to Instagram and circling back for a second. I read that in 2018 you had around 12,000 followers and today you've got around 94 or 95,000 followers. So you've had some significant growth in the last few years for brands who are in a position of wanting to scale and grow instagram as a channel knowing that instagram is harder to grow in today's market. What is it that's driven that growth for you and driving it now? Is it the facebook and instagram ads and people coming from that or is it things like partnerships, influencer marketing and content. Yeah, I think there's a few different things that have driven our growth and like it's funny to hear you say, I just feel like we should be at more than 100,000 followers by now. So I am pushing that team like why are we not over 100,000? But you know, as you grow, you just get more and more like aggressive and ambitious with your goals. So it's a big goal of ours to double that in the next few months.
00:31:47Edit So hopefully if we talk again next year will be significantly higher anyway. Um the key things that have driven our growth on instagram are Yes, he listed one of them when you spend a lot of money on instagram ads naturally, you're going to get some people who click on, you know, where is that coming from and then they find your profile and then maybe they follow you or not. But that's where content comes in. If they don't like what they see on the grid and in your stories when they come to visit you, they're not going to follow it. So having good, compelling content on the grid is really important to get the visitors to actually click follow and then stay with the brand. And then I would say again, going back to micro influencers or just influencers in general, influencers are a core part of our strategy. We have a full time in house influencer managers is a big channel for us. And we've dabbled in like Tiktok influencers and we've dabbled in like Snapchat influencers but the real sort of winners for us. Our instagram influencers. And so when they post to their communities that obviously drive some of our growth and then the last thing I'd say, we don't do a lot of this. But I've heard it if it's helpful for others, like instagram sweepstakes, you know, tag three friends for a chance to win this tag follow, you know, you partner with brands.
00:32:53Edit We don't do a lot of sweeps. But I have heard that instagram sweeps for followers are huge for growing. Mm hmm. So interesting. Yeah, I bet that would be very popular for you as well. Yeah, we'll try it. Another thing that I read was you had a really interesting approach to finding your, I don't know if it was your original manufacturer or a current manufacturer, but finding someone that you could actually partner with and build a partner through equity, I wondered if you could share a little bit about what that partnership looks like and how it worked. Yeah, sure that was a key thing that took us from being like a small business to a really fast growing startup. So, you know, I mentioned in the very early days, we were just using little mom and pop local boutique manufacturers and they're not in a position to take equity instead of pay these people like this is their livelihoods, but when you scale up, you can find major manufacturers that are based across asia or latin America or wherever that have huge, huge, huge businesses that serve, you know, a lot of major wholesale clients and a lot of these major manufacturers, the landscape is shifting such that they're interested in having a foot in e commerce and in fact, many have tried to spin up their own e commerce businesses to preserve their margins to compete.
00:34:09Edit Like what we saw with Covid with a lot of the wholesalers closing a lot of the big box department stores closing. That really hurt the manufacturers at the bottom of the totem pole. So they've been interested for some time in exposure to e commerce and once I had, you know, once the business was six months old or so and I had a little bit of proof of concept. I knew I would need to level up my manufacturing, not just for better. I mean, yes, I needed to fix my margins, My margins were shipped in the beginning, but not just to fix the margins, but also because like I'm ambitious with my growth, I want to be huge and, and I needed a factory that could scale with us that could produce the enormous quantities of swimwear that I pictured us producing. And so long story short, I had since moved to new york city, this garment district in new york city and I basically went door to door in the garment district and by the way, like, I think a lot of the story of Andy is literally just like putting in the legwork, knocking on doors, being like, I'm here, I can do a cool thing like hear me out. So I would never underestimate the value of work. And I went door to door and I was like, look, I'm an income expert, I've worked at these places, I have this baby swimwear business, I have big dreams of scaling it.
00:35:15Edit I know how to get there, but I need a manufacturing partner and what I'm looking for is a partner who can give me, you know, great pricing and in exchange for sort of better pricing, I'm willing to give equity in the business. And so typically manufacturers, you know, they make money by charging you something more than what it costs them to make the product. And I basically traded that for equity and that gave me just massive. And I mean, long story short, obviously I ended up striking a good deal with a great manufacturing partner. They became almost like a co founder of the business six months in, I mean, they're not a co founder, but it's sort of the easiest way of thinking about them because they're truly part of like we work in there. Well, not during Covid, but normally our offices inside of their global headquarters in new york city. Um, I go to, I go to the five, visit the factories with the ceo of the manufacturer. Um, we're really partners, um, in every way and they became major equity holders and Andy and so like it was a win win because Andy got huge margins. I got positive working cat. We also did like working capital terms, things that would really help the business grow and they got exposure to e.
00:36:18Edit Com and it was a risk on both ends and I think it's gone phenomenally well because Andy has grown and they're so happy that they now have a foot in one of the fastest growing consumer facing e commerce companies in new york and I'm thrilled that I have one of the world's largest rumor manufacturers as my partner, totally. It sounds so exciting and it's such a great idea to really take it to that next level, I'm sure that's something that a lot of people on the show listening could benefit from exploring. Love that. Where is the business today? And what does the future look like? So the business today is great. I mean now I don't give actual revenue numbers anymore because the board would kill me, but like we do over $20 million a year, like we did over $20 million in 2020. Well, do you know, and if we're growing over 100% year over year, you can kind of guess where we expect to be in 2021. So, you know, a huge amount of growth. We sell more swimsuits, like between when my alarm goes off and I hit snooze, then we did in the first day of our sales, you know, like it's just like the scale is unbelievable and hopefully in a couple of years this will seem tiny to, and uh, so we sell a lot of swimsuits, we've grown to 20 employees and I think for the scale that we are, it's actually kind of kind of small.
00:37:32Edit But again, having that manufacturing relationship means that we've been able to hire less on the production side than a company of our scale might typically need to, and, and now we're looking at, you know, what, what's ahead? How do we keep growing from here? We're exploring new categories. We're exploring more international destinations. You know, I think what we've built over the last almost four years is a really a brand and a platform that women love creating a product that's especially vulnerable for women and making swimsuits that women love and feel confident in, which is a hard thing to do. And so now that we have the trust of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of women, what else can we serve them that they'll love? And we're not going to do like random, we're focused, we're very focused. So as we think about category and geographic expansion, it's very much like what does our customer want? It always starts with the customer just like it did that very first summer. Yeah, totally. Like what makes sense? And what do they need to add into the mix? Yeah, we're not trying to just add waste to anyone's life totally.
00:38:36Edit When you look back over the last almost four years, what do you attribute your success to? What do you think it is in yourself that has gotten you to this point? I think it's a lot of grit and perseverance. There were times when I don't think anyone saw a path for Andy to succeed and I think as the founder, your responsibility is just to like come up against brick walls and go walk right through them, like you don't do not stop at a brick wall that is a lame obstacle. So like grit and perseverance, A tremendous community. I mean I've not done this by myself. You know, an enormous number of people have helped me along the way. I think like having a vision that you're marching after is really important without the vision, it's so easy to quit or flounder. And, and our customers, I mean Covid was a scary time for Andy especially March and april people stopped traveling, people were scared and that was like that's going to peak season and our sales plummeted. And I thought, oh my God, you know, by no fault of our own, this business is not going to survive. Covid and I sent out some really personal emails like, hey, I'm the founder, this is what I've been doing for the last, you know, x number of years and our customers came to us and they were like, we love Andy, we love what you guys are doing and they bought swimsuits for us in the middle of a global pandemic when they couldn't travel anywhere.
00:39:54Edit And I like, it just completely blew me away. And I think that's off the back of having built a brand that actually listened to them for the first time. So these are all the things that helped. And of course we didn't talk about it, but along the way, I've raised about $10 million dollars in venture capital since those first early days and money also helps totally help scale wow, what a powerful community, that sounds so amazing and you know, to have them rally behind you during hard times when, when it's tough for everyone must have just been such a special special moment, special period of the brand for you to look back on. It kept me going personally totally. What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to launch their own business? Do it? You know, just to do it, get it out there, if you have an idea, you want to launch your own business, get it out there. It's really, it's become easier and easier to put up a Shopify site or a website if it's not a product to do a Kickstarter campaign to tell your friends about it on facebook or instagram or email, just get it out there and don't worry about it being the perfect business, you know, when you launch, you know, now we sell a ton of bikinis, I did not start Andy to sell bikinis, I never wear bikinis, I didn't think I'd ever do that and here we are.
00:41:10Edit So the business that you launch is not the business that will become, so don't be afraid of just getting it out there. Do you think when you look back at your crowdfunding campaign, you know, having filmed it yourself on your phone, do you think because maybe at that time it wasn't like super saturated as a market to do crowdfunding campaigns like that in comparison to what it's like today. Do you think in today's market, I guess my question is could you do the same thing that you did back then or do you think now it needs to be more polished, more everything? No, I mean this was only 2016 I guess, wow, that's five years ago, but it was already like crowdfunding was a very popular method back then. I honestly think that the more authentic and genuine the video and the campaign the better. I think that I think that people see right through, you know, the glossy images, it's just like facebook ads today, we have enormous budgets to shoot lifestyle images and you name it Fiji Bahamas, whatever, and we still go like down the street and shoot on like a new york city rooftop on an iphone because that just works better.
00:42:14Edit It's, there's something more authentic, there's something more, it just works better. And I think the same is true for crowdfunding. I mean it can't be sloppy, but but like, I don't think that um I think that consumers more and more see through the big loss images and what they want to know is why you're doing this and why you care about it and why they should care and that's all that matters. Absoluteal No one wants. Sloppy. Yeah, We are up to the six quick questions part of the episode. Question number one is what's your, why I started Andy because I wanted to start something and see if it could be successful and so far that is proving to be true, but we're not there yet but it gives me going every day. I want to prove that I can I want to present, I can do this totally Question #2 is what do you think has been the number one marketing moment that made your business pop early in the life of the business? Complete coincidence, we didn't know her, we didn't pay her, we didn't talk to her Lena Dunham posted in an Andy swimsuit.
00:43:21Edit She posted a bathroom selfie which is like the best you can possibly get in an Andy swimsuit and talked about her body and Lena Dunham is very candid about her body and it fits right in with our brand ethos and we popped like crazy when she did that. So that was a real remember that being a pivotal moment. That is so cool, I just love her to bits. She's amazing. Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What do you read? What are you listening to? Are there any groups you're subscribed to our newsletters that you that you get on the rig? Yeah. Oh God, so many. Um so I'm in a lot of like female founder groups here in new york, I mean we haven't met in a while because of Covid but that was always a fun exchange of ideas. I read the lean lux newsletter, I read the two PM newsletter. These are very, just like the pc industry newsletters looks like, you know them from nodding and, and I really like, I listened to a lot of podcasts, things like how I built this on NPR, but also like smaller entrepreneurship focused podcasts like this one.
00:44:26Edit And then lastly, I recently started working with a ceo coach as a business scales. I want to continue to be, you know, the best leader I can possibly be. And she gives me a lot of reading homework assignments. Like you need to read this book on okay ours or you need to read this book on like, you know, leadership principles, whatever. So constantly, constantly like soaking in information from all places. Any top books that you recommend from the top of your head. Radical candor by kim scott. Great. I'm going to link it in the show notes. Thank you. Question number four is how do you win the day? And that's around your AM and PM rituals that keep you feeling happy and motivated, but also productive, successful et cetera. Yeah, I think that's super important. So especially during Covid, I've gotten really making sure that I stay healthy. So I know that people listening don't see it, but there's a soulcycle bike behind me. I we added a soulcycle bike to my office and I jump on, I try to ride before work starts. But if I don't, if I'll take a call that's not on video, I'll often do it while writing, I'll just tell them ahead of the call that I might sound out of breath at some point, but I love that.
00:45:31Edit I just like, like it gives me so much momentum to be on a call while, you know, biking in my office and then I have a dog and taking my dog on walks in the morning, you know, in the middle of the afternoon is such a nice way of breaking up the day and we used to have a walker and now we don't, so I get to go out. So those are some of the things that I do that helped me win the day, love a dog helping you in the day. They're just such the best, terrible english totally. Question number five is if you only had $1000 left in your business bank account, where would you spend it? Oh boy, that's hard. Uh finally had $1,000 left. I mean like today where I am today, give you that up among my employees and say, I'm so sorry, like, I mean, you know, to go to the employees I guess. Nice, perfect, great. Love that. And last question question # six is how do you deal with failure? That's an evolving answer. I think I try to deal with it as a learning opportunity before anything else and I've said to my team so many times, it's okay if something goes wrong or if we, if we fail at something, as long as we learned from it, and I think they know they were to tell you my number one pet peeve, they would say, making the same mistake twice.
00:46:52Edit I cannot stand that if you fail at something great, you've learned something. If you do it again, you're sloppy, you're not paying attention. Like we're too small and nimble to fail twice at the same thing or like for the same reason, So have you failure as a learning opportunity, It doesn't mean I don't get frustrated, but overall, I think failures help you build a successful brand. Absolutely Mel, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show today and share your incredible story. I've loved listening and I'm going to be tuning in when you hit that 100,000, hopefully very soon. Great, well, thank you so much. This has been wonderful.