Bonobos Co-Founder & CEO Andy Dunn Talks Brand Building and Life as a Founder

Andy Dunn CEO & Co-Founder, Bonobos

Andy Dunn
CEO & Co-Founder, Bonobos

Andy Dunn co-founded Bonobos along with fellow Stanford GSB classmate Brian Spaly back in 2007. Bonobos grew through its online flagship store and has recently branched out into physical Guideshop locations in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Georgetown, with more in the works. With the recent launch of Maide, a brand geared for golfers, Andy is now bringing style back to the links. We had the pleasure of catching up with Andy to talk brand building, fundraising, word of mouth marketing and their new Guideshops.  Andy has been a FoundersCard Member since 2011.

1. Back in 2007, you and Brian Spaly began producing and selling pants. In just a few years, Bonobos has evolved from a great idea to one of the leading men’s clothing e-commerce sites. Tell us a bit about your experience launching the company, the ride in general, and how you were able to drive it to where it is today.

Building Bonobos has been the great honor of my life. We are trying to bring fit, service, and fun together in menswear for the first time. We were lucky to build the brand in a digitally-driven way from day one, right at the moment where the world was beginning its journey from offline-driven to online-driven. You can make a brand come to life a lot faster when your flagship store is delivered through e-commerce, and if you focus on that from day one, you can offer a bundle: great clothing, and the experience of buying that clothing.

2. What was the best piece of advice that you received when starting Bonobos?

Pick where you want to live, and then just go build the company there. I moved to New York in 2007 with a belief that retail and technology were on a collision course. I also had never lived in NYC for more than a summer and just wanted to be plugged into the energy. Here we are six years later and we have Warby and Gilt and Birchbox and Etsy and Floored and all these great companies. I love this town.

3. What was the most difficult part about getting Bonobos off the ground?

Funding. For the first three years, there was no institutional capital belief in what we were doing. I raised our first $8 million from over 100 angel investors.

4. Bonobos has gained significant traction through word of mouth. For a founder who is looking to spread the word about their company without spending a ton on marketing/advertising, what would you tell them?

Make a great product and you won’t have to. A wise man once told me: “marketing is a great way to scale a bad business.”

5. I’m personally hesitant about purchasing jeans online, as chances are that they may not fit right. However, countless customers and FoundersCard members have raved about how well Bonobos pants fit. How do your ninjas ensure that a customer is able to purchase pants that fit perfectly?

They don’t! They are here to ensure that you have a great experience of trying multiple sizes and sending back what doesn’t fit, but they can’t make sure what you buy fits perfectly. That’s what our revolutionary service-focused retail stores are all about: we call them the Guideshops, we have five — NYC, Chicago, DC, San Francisco, and Boston. More are on the way.

6. Bonobos’ pants are the bread and butter behind the brand. However, everything from shirts, shoes, sweaters, blazers and accessories are now available. How were you able to expand the catalogue, and what inspired you to do so in such a short amount of time?

A lot of brands get in trouble for not knowing what they mean to their customer. We once surveyed a bunch of customers, why do you shop Bonobos? We heard three words: fit, service, and fun. That was when we realized we had a mandate to move into other categories where fit is important, and where we can communicate fun through color and print. Our button down shirts, where we have Slim fit and a slimming Standard fit, are on fire right now. Fastest growing business at the company.

7. Bonobos was launched and scaled as an online retail store, but as of late, you have helped transition the line into retail stores, both in select Nordstrom locations and in Bonobos Guideshops as well. Tell us a bit about the Guideshops, and what the customer may expect when they walk in to one.

Our Guideshops are all about personalized service. You get a one-on-one appointment, either by signing up on our site or by walking in, where a Bonobos Guide (your onsite expert in fit and style) focuses on finding clothes you love. You walk out with no bags because that Guide places an order from our website while you leave. Guys love it.

8. What is next on the radar for Bonobos?

It’s getting warm out and it’s time to play some golf. We’ve launched a new brand, Maide. It’s all about bringing some style back to the game, in addition to great fit and the functionality of semi-technical fabrics rather than purely-technical fabrics.

9. According to Wikipedia, the bonobo (the chimpanzee, that is) is popularly known for its high levels of sexual behavior. Is there any correlation between this observed behavior and the effect of putting on a pair of Bonobos pants?

Of course. Great fitting clothes attract attention and make you feel more confident. And confidence is the most powerful aphrodisiac in the world.

11. What is the #1 fashion fail that you’ve seen recently?

Those women’s shoes where a heel is hidden in a high top. Disastrous.

12. What book is currently on tap at the Bonobos book club?

The team is reading Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). My attention span is limited to scanning my iPhone. To actually read something, I’ve reverted to hard cover books from this amazing shop called Three Lives Bookseller in the west village. I buy books there at full price because I love the experience (there’s that bundle again!). I feel like a dinosaur doing it and I love it. I’ve always really liked dinosaurs.

13. What is one startup that has recently caught your interest, and FoundersCard members should keep an eye on in 2013?

Wealthfront. This company could turn the mutual fund industry upside down. Software eats the world.


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