This week I’ll be running a series of Five Question interviews with small businesses which were facilitated by BondStreet, a SMB lending platform (we’re investors). LocalBiz stories are really fun for me since my first high school job was working in an independent bookstore. These people are true founders and entrepreneurs just like any venture backed company.
Hunter Walk: Can you share the founding story of Blank Label? How did it all begin?
Blank Label: It all started because someone complimented me on what I was wearing at work. The summer previous to starting Blank Label, I was in Shanghai and got some custom suits and shirts made. When I came back into the office, people would start complimenting me on my new clothes. It felt awesome, so much so that I was only wearing my custom clothes. Eventually coworkers would ask where these new suits and shirts were from, and when I told them they were custom and affordable, they asked how they could access this. That’s really where it all started, and over the years we’ve just kept finding men who wanted that original premise, clothes that fit and are comfortable at an affordable price.
HW: All of the social platforms claim to help small businesses and brands amplify their voice, find their customers. Are you active on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, etc? How do you decide which products to dedicate time and attention? Do “likes” and “shares” turn into sales?
BL: We are intentionally unsocial. We design our business heavily around our target customer, and he just isn’t looking to engage with brands on social. It’s actually been hard to be disciplined not to jump on the social bandwagon over the years as it’s just become so sexy, but each time we think about investing more there, we just look at our customers’ behavior and recognize there are other areas we can invest.
HW: At Homebrew we see lots of startups wanting to serve the small/growing business segment with software tools ranging from ecommerce, to point of sale to employees backoffice and so on. What software tools help power your business – besides Microsoft Excel – since everyone secretly just uses Excel 🙂
BL: We love excel as much as the next person and everyone in the company lives in either Excel or Google Spreadsheets everyday. In terms of our technology stack, we’ve been pretty in-house focused from day one. We’ve built our website, CRM, ERP all internally, which is pretty uncommon for a company our size with one developer. Email is our most powerful marketing channel, and for that we use an ESP called Klaviyo, and SumoMe for on-site email capture. Two other software products of not that we’ve been really happy with are Gusto for payroll, HelpScout for support desk.
HW: What’s a problem you wish a technology startup could solve for you?
BL: From a marketing standpoint, we take more of a brand approach than direct approach. That makes attribution challenging, e.g. a visitor finds a blog post via organic search, then comes back via retargeting ad, and then finally converts on direct traffic. Do we know all those touch points for that visitor, and how do we weight those sources of traffic. There are some enterprise solutions that we’ve seen, but nothing that’s been a right fit for a company our size.
HW: You partnered with Bond Street for growth capital. How did you originally connect with Bond Street? What’s the biggest difference for you between a platform like Bond Street and traditional borrowing from a bank or other offline source?
BL: We heard about Bond Street from a business network called YEC. For a company like ours, we reinvest all free cashflows back into the business, but on a tax return basis (which is what traditional bank lenders look at), it looks like we’re barely profitable. From Bond Street, they’re willing to dig into the numbers a bit more and see that we are reinvesting back, and are growing at a good clip that we can comfortably cover the debt. It was also a frictionless process where we uploaded docs we already had and very quickly got a loan offer.
Bond Street is transforming small business lending through technology, data and design.