Focus on foundation. Before launching any initiative, we always ask if it is scalable. It’s important that you build a strong foundation to that can get you from 0 dollar in revenue to seven figures and beyond. When you’re scaling, there is no time to change your foundation. It’s like once you’ve started building a house, it’s really difficult to adjust its foundation. We try to think two steps ahead. Even if it’s more costly today if it’s the right decision for tomorrow then we’ll often proceed.
As part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing brothers Elliot, Dylan, and Brandon Kim, co-founders of Brevite, a direct to consumer backpack company that makes fun function and innovative backpacks designed for everyday life. Over the last five years they’ve bootstrapped Brevite from a prototype they designed in college, to a cult-favorite brand with six products and over 1,000 five-star reviews. Today, the brothers continue to lead the company, working across finance & operations (Elliot), marketing (Dylan), and creative & strategy (Brandon).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Dylan: We are three brothers, actually Elliot and I are twins, and Brandon is only 14 months older. So as you can imagine we’re pretty close. We started Brevite in 2015 partly to address a problem and partly because we were interested to launch a company. The idea came as Brandon was trying to get into graduate school for industrial design and I was traveling abroad to Hong Kong. We brainstormed ideas and came up with a backpack that could be both a regular backpack and also a camera backpack. There was a removable insert to hold camera equipment, and once removed from the backpack it just served as a regular backpack. The idea got a lot of support from student photographers and others that didn’t always want to wear a camera-only backpack. We launched on Kickstarter and nearly raised 40K dollars.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Brandon: Probably the opportunity to live in Vietnam for a short time. We produce our products in Vietnam. To improve our product design and manufacturing process, we traveled to Vietnam three times last year. Elliot and I lived there for over a month on one trip. I remember when we were there we kept laughing at the fact that who would have known a small project started a few years ago would turn into us spending a significant amount of time in Vietnam. It felt a bit surreal to be on the other side of the world working on the company we had started. We’re really grateful for that experience last year, especially as COVID halted all travel. Beyond our product, the trips allowed us to experience a new culture and make new friendships with our suppliers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Brandon: We definitely would not have made the decisions or had the success we’ve had without our mentors. We always say there’s no substitution for experience. People who have lived through experiences and can share their perspectives on dos and don’ts is essential to avoiding failure.
Two mentors have played an important role. Luke Sherwin, co-founder at Casper, took us under his wing and taught us about building strong brand equity when we were selling only a couple backpacks per day. And Trevor Legwinski, COO at BigML, provided us regular business guidance to overcome our own mental hurdles.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Elliot: “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”
Dylan: “Treat everyone with dignity and respect”. We’ve had such meaningful experiences and mentorship come from treating everyone with dignity and respect. You never know where someone will be in 5 to 10 years or how they can help you.
Brandon: ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’. Building a company is difficult and the desire for perfection can often outweigh logic. We do our best to be perfect, but often we need to be careful not to self-sabotage in the pursuit of perfection.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Elliot: We’re a direct-to-consumer backpack startup. We’re designing functional backpacks to support your every day while doing good in the process. We started with backpacks for photographers, and have since expanded to everyday backpacks where we see a bigger market opportunity. Unlike other big backpack brands that came before us, we’re leaning heavily into the DTC model because it gives us the most flexibility to invest in a quality product and to have a positive impact on our community. We found it’s really challenging to prioritize those values with a more traditional distribution model.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Brandon: We design some of the best products on the market. We’ve listened to our customers over the years and incorporated that feedback every step of the way. Our products are also built to last a long time. We believe it’s important to make quality products to last a lifetime.
Elliot: Our customers can also feel confident that their purchase is having a positive impact. As we mentioned, as a company we want to create lasting change for the greater good . This year we donated 150K dollars of backpacks to support the homeless in NYC. We also raised more than 25K dollars for COVID-19 relief and another 10K dollars+ to support a non-profit that empowers young people. We believe that giving back should be a part of more companies’ business models. We’re excited that this was just the beginning.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
Brandon: Our first motivation was to start something meaningful as brothers. We didn’t have a product or even an idea at that time. There was just an initial desire to create something interesting and meaningful. Then there was a desire to create it together.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
Elliot: The company has changed a lot but the motivation has largely remained the same. We want to have a positive impact on our customers and our community. We want to put well thought out, sustainable products into the world, and use our scale to create a positive impact for the greater good.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Elliot: After successful give-back campaigns this past year, we’ve been working to figure out how we can continue to have a positive impact at scale. We’ve spent a lot of time identifying what is really needed in our communities, and trying to set up our business operation to meet those needs. Just as we built out a scalable supply chain to create backpacks for our business, we are looking to build out a scalable supply chain to empower those doing good in our communities.
The topic of this series is ‘Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue’. Congratulations! Seven figures is really a huge milestone. In your experience what was the most difficult part of being able to hit your first million-dollars in sales revenue?
Elliot: A combination of patience and persistence. We’re a bootstrapped company, which means we’ve had to be a little more methodical in our decision making. It also means we’ve had to be more patient as we’ve waited to have the resources to start or accelerate initiatives.
Dylan: Creating sustainable systems for growth. We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but the challenges of learning to put the right systems in place have been invaluable to our success.
Brandon: Doing more with less. This was a driving mantra internally for all of us. We had to use our limited money like a scalpel, focusing instead on being scrappy to accomplish our goals. This definitely tested us many times.
Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?
Dylan: As a marketer, you can only be as successful as the product that you’re trying to sell. A strong product with a strong brand helped us to scale quickly.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you or your team made during a sales process? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Elliot: I laugh at how naive we were when we first wanted to start a corporate sales process. We thought that we could just cold call our leads and push deals through. It became clear how much infrastructure a robust sales process needs, from talented salespeople to account managers that can keep customers happy through the process. We’re still figuring this out now, but we’ve definitely learned that a solid sales process is not a walk in the park.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Elliot: We’re in the process of building a more robust sales process and team to build out our corporate sales channel. We’d love to hear from others that have worked in successful sales teams!
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Be consistent. We started in 2015 while in college and we’ve met as a team every week to talk about new business goals and opportunities.
2. Create a good team. We each have very different skill sets (Brandon runs product & design, Dylan runs marketing, and Elliot runs finance & operations). We’ve each owned our areas of expertise, and this has helped us have a well-rounded team. It’s important to have a strong team around you that supports areas you don’t have expertise or interest in.
3. Find mentors. Your mentors will help you identify issues that you can’t see in your day-to-day. They can help you problem-solve and avoid mistakes. Find mentors that have a lot more experience than you do.
4. Focus on foundation. Before launching any initiative, we always ask if it is scalable. It’s important that you build a strong foundation to that can get you from 0 dollar in revenue to seven figures and beyond. When you’re scaling, there is no time to change your foundation. It’s like once you’ve started building a house, it’s really difficult to adjust its foundation. We try to think two steps ahead. Even if it’s more costly today if it’s the right decision for tomorrow then we’ll often proceed.
5. Build a better product. Oftentimes the quality of the product is discounted with rhetoric such as “you can sell anything.” However, the fallacy in such a statement is that it is much easier to sell a good product than a bad product. The best product may not always win, but it sure makes it much easier to! As we have taken the time to truly understand the nuances and details of the product that we sell, we have improved our product exponentially. The joy is not only reflected in our customers, it is reflected in our bottom line.
What would you advise to another business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
Dylan: Constantly challenge your approach to marketing and product. As a business leader, it’s your job to listen to your customers and what their needs are. Once you understand this feedback, it’s important to react quickly to be a first-mover and so that your customers know you’re listening.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Dylan: I believe that effective storytelling has been instrumental in helping us find new customers. We’re also honest and transparent with our customers. Great brands are built over time with a consistent foundation. We constantly think about if you were describing us to a friend, what would you say?
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Brandon: Honestly, it sounds simple but so many founders get this wrong. You need to seriously invest in your customer experience. Don’t choose a path because it’s least expensive today. Be smart and strategic about it because it will pay off over time. Your customers are opening their wallets and choosing to buy from you, so it really is your responsibility to make sure they have a great experience. From our product to our packaging, to our customer success team, we invest heavily across the customer experience to make sure our customers are happy.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Dylan: Yes, acquiring new customers is definitely expensive. So similarly to what Brandon said about customer experience, a positive experience is our first priority so that the customer will recommend us to their friends or family. This helps with customer acquisition a lot. We also just finished working with a merchandising executive that helped us build out our product roadmap to limit customer attrition. I’ll let Brandon share more.
Brandon: Sure, so we started with the idea that we could create one backpack that would solve all of a person’s carry needs. It soon became clear that this was impossible. Some people may want a different backpack for traveling, going to the gym, or commuting. This makes sense since a backpack is really limited by its size, function, and style. Someone going to the gym or traveling may need a bigger or different functioning backpack than someone going to work. Our plan going forward is to continue to offer versatile products, but we also recognize that people may want more dedicated backpacks for different use cases. We’ll plan to continue to offer a streamlined version of backpacks to fit people’s varying needs.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Elliot: We think about this a lot. We want the business to be a force for good. We recognize the power and scale that companies can have if they invest in their people and their communities. We believe that more people can be motivated to go to work because they are working towards something bigger, with people they care about. The workforce will be better because of this, and so will our communities.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Elliot, Brandon, Dylan: Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. He has stuck to his values from day one and has built a company and culture that was before its time.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!