Sometimes the smallest of things inspire the greatest of ideas. For Ryan Olson, that small thing was an unruly beard.
On a mission to tame his facial hair, Ryan found little in the way of quality beard care. Instead he stumbled upon a community of peers who shared the same problem: plenty of facial hair, but nothing to groom it with.
Within months, Ryan launched Texas Beard Company with three close friends. Today they ship all-natural beard care products to customers around the world, and legions of bearded men and their non-bearded admirers have fallen in love with the brand -- one of the company’s customers went so far as to tattoo the Texas Beard Co. logo on their body.
We spoke to Ryan about pioneering the beard care market, the challenges of riding a trend, and what it’s like to balance a full-time job with a thriving side business.
What sparked the idea to start Texas Beard Company?
I started to grow a ‘yeard’ (a beard grown out over a year), and it eventually got to the point where it had become rough, itchy, and scraggly. Instead of shaving it down like I used to, I started looking for beard grooming products to make my beard soft and smooth. There were some out there, but not much. What I did find instead was a group of people looking for the same type of product.
Beard care is a niche market. What made you decide that it was worth pursuing as a business?
I had a gut instinct. I also started doing research on Google Trends and saw that the “beard care” market was gaining traction and was on its way up. My team and I all have full-time jobs as software developers and designers at an e-commerce software company. Thankfully, our experience from our day jobs helped us save a lot on the costs that go into starting a business, like creating a website, setting up an online store, and designing our product logo.
How did people react when you told them you were getting into the beard care space?
There were some people who thought it was a joke and we’d just laugh with them. We saw their laughter as a sales opportunity. Now, we get a range of customers: from the stereotypical lumberjack/oil rig worker to a hipster with a 5 o’clock shadow. We connect with different people and we don’t alienate anyone, not even people who don’t have beards. We sell baby clothes, shirts for people who just want the logo, and we’re even thinking about starting a shaving line.
What were things like when you first launched Texas Beard Co.?
For the first few months I was making small batches of the product and filling orders. Since my team and I have full-time jobs, we hired my wife as a full-time employee and my mother-in-law part-time. In the last five to six months, we’ve experienced exponential growth so having them help out has been great.
Your mother-in-law! How’s that going?
It’s going great. Working with her and my wife has allowed us to keep up with our growth and expansion.
Do you have any advice for working with family members and loved ones?
Always put your personal life first and don’t let your business get in the way of that.
Juggling a home-based business and a full-time job can’t be easy.
It’s an ongoing challenge to have a balance between our full-time jobs and spending more time on our company.
Running the business out of my house is also tough. We have too many things to store (materials and product packaging) and not enough space. The house is always a mess and the front room is like a slip ’n’ slide with oil all over the wooden floors (laughing). To deal with this, we’re in the process of opening a separate space for our business.
Is there a strategy or technique you’ve used to grow your business that you recommend to other entrepreneurs?
We started marketing early with any profit we had. Using Google Advertising, remarketing techniques, and social media advertising is also very helpful. We’ve also reached out to several podcasts and some other grassroots-type advertising to reach new audiences that may not see our typical web ads.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you started your business?
I wish we had known about Bench sooner!
Glad we could help! Are there any other tools that you use regularly to run things at Texas Beard Co. that you’d recommend to other entrepreneurs?
We’ve found Shipping Easy to be extremely helpful. It cuts our USPS rates and almost fully automates print labels to stick on packages. Google Analytics and Google Adwords have been great at showing us where people are coming from and where/what we should invest more in.
Have you had to deal with any setbacks as e-commerce entrepreneurs?
We underestimated how popular our Black Friday sales discount would be. We ended up getting a month and a half’s worth of orders in four days. The challenge was to get all the orders filled (even if they were late) and keep customers happy at the same time.
A good problem to have, but overwhelming nonetheless. How did you handle the overload?
We responded honestly to our customers and explained to them that their order was late because we had thousands of orders to fill in such a short time. And they sympathized and understood, which was a huge helping hand for us.
After the busy holiday season, we thought we were going to tank, but it hasn’t happened yet. We’ve kept on pace with sales numbers since November. We grew in the summer and now we’re growing into the spring.
Challenges aside, what do you love most about being an entrepreneur?
How much our customers seem to love us. It’s really great seeing that what we make with our bare hands is actually making a difference in peoples' lives. We even had a customer get our logo tattooed on his arm!
On top of that it’s been an awesome learning experience that helps us everyday in our day jobs.
That’s wild. How did you create such a deep affinity with your customers?
We don’t do anything forced to create a connection with our customers. They see that we’re not just a business. We’re real, down-to-earth guys who are present in everything we do.