Dan Demskey is the Co-Founder of Unbound Merino. Dan has taken not one, not two, but four companies to 6, 7, & 8 figures over the last decade. From starting a digital video agency in his mom’s basement to selling funky socks, this entrepreneur has consistently seen the heights of success and the lows of trying to keep the lights on in the business. Even though his digital agency had reached 7 figures working with brands such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, General Motors, & GE he was tired of chasing the next contract in order to get paid.
Deciding to scratch his own itch & seeing an industry that could be done better, Dan set his sights on creating stylish, simple Merino wool apparel that can be worn for weeks or even months - without ever needing to be washed. His best friends and him decided to trade in their Friday nights to start grinding away on the idea and launch a crowdfunding campaign, raising $380,000 in its first 2 months. After just 3-years in business, they are now doing $4m in revenue selling to over 100 countries around the world.
This life long entrepreneur and his industry leading company has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, USA Today, Travel & Leisure, & Lonely planet. Additionally he shared his wisdom with hundreds of entrepreneurs as mentorship director of the Entrepreneur Organization’s Canadian Chapters.
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Do you know the biggest crutches in the world is politics. Politics, just distracts from everything meaningful. And they're important in the sense of holding governments accountable. But I feel like this whole left first right thing is, feels a whole lot like Yankees or Red Sox to me. At the end of the day, it's just a game. Like you guys are all just picking a side, it's not even about like what's right. It's about the other team losing more than it is about ideas winning. So focus on ideas. Read a lot. Don't consume too much media. Hang around good people and focus on yourself.
Want to hear another bootstrap eCommerce CEO who has built a 7 figure business? — Listen to my conversation with Eric Bandholz, founder of Beardbrand and forefather of the urban beardsman movement which turned a $30 investment in a side project into a 7 figure eCommerce business dominating a market.
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Dan Demsky Interview
Brandon Stover: [00:00:53] Hey, everyone. Welcome to Evolve.
Today's guest has taken not one, not two but four companies to six, seven, and eight figures over the last decade. From starting a digital video agency in his mom's basement to selling funky socks, this entrepreneur has consistently seen the Heights of success and the lows of trying to keep the lights on in the business. Even though his digital agency had reached seven figures working with brands, such as Coca Cola, Microsoft GM, and GE, he was tired of chasing the next contract in order to get paid.
So deciding to scratch his own edge and seeing an industry that could be done better, he set his sights on creating a stylish, simple Merino wool apparel that can be worn for weeks or even months without ever needing to be washed. As best friends and him decided to trade in their Friday nights to start grinding away on the idea and launch a crowdfunding campaign, raising 380,000 in its first two months. After just three years in business, they are now doing 4 million in revenue selling to over a hundred countries around the world.
This lifelong entrepreneur and his industry leading company has been featured in Forbes, fast company USA today, travel and leisure and lonely planet. Additionally, he has shared his wisdom with hundreds of entrepreneurs as mentor, director of entrepreneur organizations, Canadian chapters.
I'm honored to welcome the co founder of Unbound Merino three-time founder, and then ideas guy who thought a pickle business might be a good idea. Dan Demsky.
Dan Demsky: [00:02:20] Wow. That was great. That's cool. I didn't, I didn't provide that for you. You just figured it out the story and I, and it was cool to hear. I'm like, I felt like with that summary, I'm like, I'm excited to hear me. You made me sound good.
Brandon Stover: [00:02:36] well,
Dan Demsky: [00:02:36] I guess I focused so much on the lows and the challenges. The times that it's like sitting back and be like, Hey, you know what? That was pretty cool stuff.
Every Seven Figure Business Starts In Their Mom's Basement, Right?
Brandon Stover: [00:02:43] Yeah, for sure. You definitely had quite an amazing journey before we get to Unbound Merino. I'd kinda like to talk about some of your older businesses, which the first one being a biz media, which you started in your mom's basement. Could you tell me a little bit about, you know, getting that first real business off the ground?
Dan Demsky: [00:02:59] Yeah. You know, I never intended to start a business. I wasn't working in some corporate job and I felt like I'm going to do my own thing. Like really? This is how my career started. I was in school. I was studying communications, radio, broadcasting, and actually started interning at a talk radio station in the city.
And I was producing on the weekends and my best friend and business partner from that company, he was in film school and he just wanted to do anything with the camera. So we would go and just come up with ideas for like documentaries and we'd write scripts. And we ended up getting a camera and started doing some freelance work just to, you know, We, we spent a lot of money on this camera and we'd like to, to make it make money, but also we just wanted to, get some more gear.
Like we wanted to get a little camera, top light, and we wanted to get, a microphone and, And we, we just really, really were passionate about it. Wasn't like, we're like, okay, we're going to create a business doing video production or anything like that. It was just like, Hey, someone was willing to pay us 200 bucks to show up and shoot, do a light, little edit.
And if you broke it down to how much we were working by the hour, we were getting paid very little, but we love doing it. We were very, very passionate about that. So I think that passion. made us output good quality for the price that we were charging. So naturally there was a lot of people coming back saying, this was, these are my video guys.
If I need them, this is a good deal. word of mouth started and that's how the business started. Like it was, it was, we just wanted to do something on the side of school. I had no plans of getting into the video business. I thought I was gonna get into radio and tons of small businesses. We were, we are filling our days.
Like we could, we didn't have enough. Hours in the day to do all the work that we started getting. And then at that point it sort of started trading up the chain. Like one of our, one of our customers, clients, he would ran an audio visual company, you know, we do like weddings and corporate events and we'd do stuff for him.
And he's, he had bigger, the clients he had were like big corporate clients to us. you know, you guys are so good and so talented and so reliable. Why don't I get you to work with some of our clients and you'll get way more money and you know what you could. You can give me a finder's fee for anyone that I find for you.
But even if you give me that, let's say it's 10 per cent, you know, you can charge a whole lot more and we're like, yeah, no brainer. And that's how we got our first corporate client. It was GE. And, you know, it was, it wasn't a very high paying job. I think it was $3,800, but the, the amount of work that it took to do to earn that 3,800 was so easy that we actually sat on the project for an extra week or two, just to make it look like it was harder that we felt like we weren't.
It wasn't justified to take that much money, but they were so happy to pay it. Cause it was pennies to GE. But when that's, when we realized Holy we've been chasing the wrong customer the whole time we got to find corporate clients. So that was when the business started. We just switched our focus and I became very, very focused on sales.
I'm like, I want to get into boardroom, we're going to do pitches. We're going to get more clients like this, less like the small guy. And then we just started growing rapidly at that point. In our first year we did $60,000 in revenue and we thought that was insane. We're like, wow, I can't believe we got $60,000.
But in our second year, when we started the corporate, we did 600,000. And then the year after that we did 1.2 million and all of a sudden we're like, wow, we did not expect this. It happened at all. And you know, we were friendly from my mom's basement to a small studio, downtown to a big office and having employees and, and, and a big reputation in the city.
And it was just growing. But yeah. Being young and dumb, that counts challenges. Cause we just thought we could do no wrong because we were growing so fast, but you could definitely do wrong, especially in your early twenties. And, I learned the lessons the hard way, but once you have the staff, I think we were, you know, at, into that fourth year we had 18 employees and It became a whole different beast.
It wasn't like the fun, exciting, like rapid growth. It was like, we have mouths to feed. We have payroll, we have responsibilities, but we were still young and dumb. So there's a lot of lessons to learn in there. So when I tell the story, but the rise it's, it's exciting, but the crash was brutal. It was brutal.
And, I don't, I don't regret any of it because in those lessons, that's where you really learn. And, you know, if you can weather some of the storms we weathered, that's where you really, really get perspective on how to do things the right way. Now I'm still young and I'm still learning, but man, we have some lessons.
The failures are as important as the, as the triumphs in your growth. In the story itself. So I did that and, but what's after, you know, after that fourth year, it wasn't as fun anymore. And I've, I stayed in it for years, but that was my job. That's what I did for a living. But I was looking for years of ways to get out of it, to do something different with a different business model.
I was done with that business, but stayed in it for years.
Trading In A Service Based Business For An Ecommerce One
Brandon Stover: [00:08:12] You had a couple of different other things going on. you became partner in a brand called D brand. And then also we're looking to start this hitsu socks. What were some of the major lessons that you learned from these.
Dan Demsky: [00:08:26] Well D brand, I'm not the founder. But I was there for the beginning. You know, we helped get the business started with, doing some video work. And I was, you know, a mentor to him for what feels like a veer few hours or days, because he is so brilliant of an entrepreneur that he far eclipsed me very fast, but after his first year of growth, he came to me and we ironed out a deal where I would be a partner in the business.
Under the condition that we can grow the revenue to point, which we did. So I became a partner in the company, but it was growing really rapidly and I was still running my business. So I was dedicating about a day a week to this business. And if I was going to be really, you know, a part of that operation at the rate, it was growing, I would need to be all in, but it was not my business.
It was his, so I sort of got pushed out, kicked out of the company, but bought out, he remains one of my close friends. And I would say one of my most cherished mentors now, which is funny because it started, I was mentoring him, but I told you that lasted. A couple of hours. Cause he is a really, that that business has absolutely skyrocketed, but it was really an interesting experience for me because I got to be a part of an important growth period of an eCommerce brand.
When I really had my eyes set on starting my own eCommerce business, that was the change I wanted in my life. I always knew it. I had a service business and you're, but he's only as successful as your last deal in the service business. So, I was just tired, you know, it felt like I was kind of a prisoner to the company.
Like if I. If I wasn't in the boardroom pitching minimum five to seven times a week, it felt like that was, that would create cashflow issues. Six to nine months down the road. I had to always be pitching and I'm doing the same pitch all the time. I felt like a dancing monkey. Like I'd go into this boardroom, do my song and dance. Same thing. I had the same little jokes at the same time, but it's not fun. It's all like standup comedy where you're like you're making people laugh or you're just trying to convince people to buy off you.
I now had the lens into this rapidly growing eCommerce business. and on the side of that, I fell into creating a sock company. Cause my friend again, in the same way I was helping brand, I was helping another friend who wanted to start a funky sock company. And the reason we wanted to start the funky sock company was because socks were becoming really the popular, at least here in Toronto, where we are in, in a lot of other cities, you know, people were. Wearing less boring socks and going like really eccentric and crazy.
So it became this big trend. The lesson I learned there is if something becomes popular, that's not the time to start a company it's already too late because everyone in their uncle already has a sock company, but we had a really good spin on it.
And even though we never got that business really off the ground, I learned valuable lessons, but actually still proud of what we created because it was very creative and it was fun. I got a taste for creating my own eCommerce brand from scratch, but it was going not anywhere very quickly.
I couldn't take a salary from that company. So I've still had to be working biz media. I was now at a d brand. and I'll tell you something. I was tired as hell because you know, you put your energy into D brand. Is a biz media starting a new company you're spread so thin you a deep right out of the picture.
I'm trying to do a startup, a new company and run an established company. And I wasn't doing either of them very well. I wasn't looking after myself in the process. You know, my health was deteriorating, was gaining weight. Like everything was kind of a mess. And, the idea for Unbound came out of a need.
It's when I discovered Merino wool for myself, it was a way of traveling lighter. I saw that all the brands in the market worth selling a product that I wanted, like everything was looked like active wear or outdoors wear. Like if I were going on a canoe trip, this would be like the right time, the clothing, you know, if I were going to fishing, if I were going, for a bike ride or running or something, I can get the active wear kind of the reflective logo.
But having a simple, t-shirt similar to what I'm wearing now that fits nice. You know, I can dress it up a little bit, put on a nice pair of pants and a watch, and I can go to a cocktail bar or feel like they, I couldn't find it. So I had this aha moment. I'm like, you know, the way that d brands started or other companies that my friends have started, eCommerce brands, they were looking for something that didn't exist. You know, they felt like all the other companies doing this, they do it terribly, or I could do it better or there's something wrong. I can do this differently. I can do this better. And they went and they did it. And finding that gap in the market was what allowed them to be successful.
All of a sudden. I was trying to get Marina wool clothing that I could travel with, but I needed it to be more versatile. I needed it to be able to be something I can wear when I do go on that hike on that trip that I'm going to be on.
But at night I want to be able to wear one of the tee shirts out for a cocktail or for a nice dinner on a nice patio or something. Right. And I'm like, this is my idea. This is it. So I remember I was just at my dog park over here, walking my dog and I called a friend of mine. Who's a business coach and older gentleman.
Who's been a business coach for decades, seen it all and a very important friend and mentor of mine. And I told him the whole idea and he just got it. He said, yes, this is a beautiful idea. I love it. But I don't think you're the guy to do this. Dan. And then just like following my heart, ripped out of my chest and like what, and he set up the point, which really was in a way, good advice.
And he said between D brand, which is now not in the picture and hits you socks at biz media, you're spread so thin. And now you're so lucky that you don't have to focus on D brand. You have these two companies, but that's too much. Are you even like, you're doing none of it? Well, how are you going to add a third thing expected? Like you can't do all these things and do any of them. Well, you're gonna do them all poorly. You made a good point. It's true. But I remember going to sleep that night and I was laying on my pillow. I had a night like this last night because of the noise in the hall, but I was laying there with my eyes wide open.
And all I could think about was man, but this is the idea. This is what I've been waiting for, you know, but I don't have time. I don't have energy. I didn't have any money to do this, even though our business was growing because media was going great. It's like I was focusing so much less energy on it. That sales were tight. Cash was tight. I took my salary was even lower.
And like, I just don't have any thing in me to make this happen except. The belief deep down inside that I have to, and I can, and I should. And that belief is a powerful thing. It's like, it's like, you can convince herself that you shouldn't do it, or you convinced yourself that you should.
And I was just looking for a reason to, to think that this is a good idea and that I should do it. And because I was wired up at night, just thinking about it. You know, we came to the conclusion that doing a crowdfunding campaign. I think someone must've told me, I don't remember exactly how that idea clicked, but it solved every problem that I had.
Like everything it's like, it's like, but you don't have money. Well, crowdfunding and get you preorders. So without giving any of your company away, right. but you don't have time. Well, I don't need, I don't need to do this urgently. I could spend as much time as I want doing this. It's not going to release the crowdfunding campaign when it's ready.
but you don't know how to make clothing. It's like, well, you're going to figure it all out during the crowdfunding campaign. Like everything that like, ultimately at the end of the production of that crowdfunding campaign, you're going to be putting something up online and saying, this is what I have.
Here's the name of the company? Here's the product. Here's the prototypes. Here's the brand. Here's the pitch. Here's the video. You get it all out there. And then the market decides if it's a good business or not. And I thought if the market tells me that they don't want this, because I couldn't get the $30,000, we were pledging for to be funded.
If they, if I couldn't get that, I'd be okay because at least I scratched the itch. I did my best. And do you know what the worst case scenario is? The worst case scenario is, is it doesn't work? And all have made the prototypes of the product I wanted to exist anyway and all have it.
So I'll do something fun, which is great. This crowdfunding campaign. I was doing it with my co founders who were my two best friends. We'll have a blast doing it. We'll drink whiskey the whole time. We'll have a we'll meet up. Once we ended up meeting up once a week to do it on Friday nights. There was really no excuse not to do this. And if it doesn't work, we'll have made all this great clothing because we're not going to release it unless we think it's great.
And then we'll have a bunch of amazing tee shirts and I'll, I've tried something and I'll learn from there. But if it didn't work, I also was thinking I was going to like retire as an entrepreneur at least temporarily and get a job somewhere, which I've never done, you know? So. But I, man, we wanted it to work so bad.
I needed this thing to work. So we put our all into it. I studied everything. There was about crowdfunding that I could find everyone. I know that through the kind of pain I asked them for everything. I got feedback on everything along the way we left no stone. Unturned. And we put it out there. And what we found was product market fit.
We tried to sell $30,000 in preorders. We sold $380,000. We pump, pump that into inventory and have a budget to go and like do some trips overseas to meet our suppliers, get close with them, oversee production ourselves. Even though we have no idea what we're looking for, learn and learn and figure it out.
And we. Put her all into it. And it's that, that was in the, that was four years ago. That was in the summer of 2016. We launched our store in December of 2016 and now we're selling, as I said in the intro in over a hundred countries and it's growing and we're having the time of our lives because we correct it.
And all the business model flaws that I've learned over the years. And, but most importantly, we believe in this product. We're selling something that's so authentically us, like, if I can, like I said, if this whole thing failed, I wouldn't even be upset because I'll have made the product I wanted. It would have lasted me a little bit of time.
You know, maybe I could have made more samples in the future, but it was, for me, it was for, I I'm so authentically, Truly the target demo of this brand. And it makes sense everything, not just easy to, in terms of figuring out what the marketing is going to be and everything and what the new products should be.
But also it's fun. Like, I, I, I'm proud of it. I am not. When I see a friend of mine buy my stuff, it's like, I feel proud to take their money cause I'm proud of what they're getting in return. So it took me a long, I mean, this is a huge journey to get to a place where I love fully love what I'm doing. I did at the beginning, but I'm here again and we're having the time of our lives.
How He Successfully Made $380,000 In A Crowdfunding Campaign
Brandon Stover: [00:19:47] Yeah. You in the process of bringing Unbound Merino, you know, with the crowdfunding campaign, kind of like creating a business plan, for those that are unaware of crowdfunding, can you kind of share how you approached it?
Dan Demsky: [00:20:02] For those unaware of crowdfunding. Basically I call it the millennial infomercial because it feels a lot like an infomercial because the center of it is the video and the video is your pitch, right? It's like you have this water, this water bottle is the best water bottle because it keeps your water cold or whatever, you know, you come up right.
And it's like, feels a little infomercially because you're just beating the viewer over the head with the benefits. That's what I've noticed as a trend with the successful campaigns. And then underneath, you can have all these perks and packages. It's like buy one t-shirt for this price, you get the early bird price and you can get two or you get a bundle kit.
And there's all these, the benefit aside from the price benefits to the customer of crowdfunding is, they'll get like lots of great deals. But they're, pre-ordering a product that isn't yet in production. So let's say you're buying something and you can say it's shipping in a year or it's shipping in six months.
So that's the trade off you're pre-ordering well in advance funding, an idea by backing a product, a product or something, or a service if they have that, early in its conception and it's all based on the pitch. So the benefit to creating a campaign is if you don't have any money, This is the way to, I mean, I think we put less than $2,000 of our own money up until the point of launching the crowdfunding campaign. That's unheard of in business.
Like, like if we were to create a clothing brand, on our own, we would need, we actually need more than 30,000 realistically you need, but we would at bare minimum the way we wanted to launch it, which is not in a big way, 70, 75,000 now. How do you get $75,000? If you don't have the money, if you don't come from, if you're not just sitting on it, you could save, you know, you could have saved over time, you know, you've over years or if you're a super high paid over less time, you know, or you come from money or you find an investor, you know, so, but law, everyone has that and seeing how my business, other businesses going, I wasn't in any position to go ask for someone to just give me a bunch of money.
And also, I didn't know if this thing was going to work. So instead of taking the risk of plugging all this money that I don't have into this new area, the idea, and hoping it works, crossing my fingers, you just do it in the crowdfunding platform. You sell it all way in advance of having to even buy your inventory.
And then you're using preorder money to fund the business. So we had $380,000, all went into inventory, setting up a small, we had a storage locker as our warehouse. We stayed super lead. Budgeting for trips to oversee our production and to be intimate with that and to get close to our suppliers and manufacturers.
it's absolutely one of the most exciting things that exist today for someone who wants to start a business, create a crowdfunding campaign is just what a way in.
Brandon Stover: [00:22:58] What are some of the things that, you know, successful campaigners won't tell you about crowdfunding that, you know, helped you be successful.
Dan Demsky: [00:23:06] here's the beauty. You don't have to be told anything. It's all out there. Do you want me to tell you the real secret, the secret is this go on to Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Those are the two. I think those are the only two I know. and look at the most funded campaigns that ever existed. And then just look at the pages, watch the videos.
That's it. That's all you need to know. These are the things that worked, right. There's a lot of things behind the scenes that you need to figure out. Like for us, we needed to figure out how to make really good quality clothing. Right. When we had no idea how to make clothing to start, but we figured it out.
Cause the way we had the will to do it. But aside from that, just in terms of like creating the campaign 95% of what you need to know is already out. It's out there just by looking at the campaigns then of course, go in and look at, Look at a. All the articles that exist. You know, I remember Tim Ferris had a really good crowdfunding campaign, which maybe is dated now, but probably not.
I ended up putting up a post on Reddit, which somehow got deleted. I actually have in my calendar tomorrow to put it back up on Reddit about everything we did in our crowdfunding campaign, that was unique, but really just. You just have to lean on the backs of all of the successful campaigns that have already existed and just Frankensteined together, your campaign, watch the video to see.
I like the intro from this video. I like the voiceover style. I like the production timeline on this campaign and like literally copy everything. That's what we did. My friend had a campaign for a productivity planner. Which was successful. And I copied like three things from that campaign. I copied from this campaign, that campaign, this one, just like little elements of what we liked to piece it altogether, to tell your own story, the format, the, the success format has just been created naturally.
And it's there for you to, to, to follow and be inspired by.
Brandon Stover: [00:25:02] Yeah, no need to reinvent the wheel for sure. How'd you guys scale Unbound Merino after those first initial customers?
Dan Demsky: [00:25:09] So that was just, that was the scary part. We were like, okay, well, we've have a successful crowd funding campaign. Well, what do we do now? Right. Like we didn't have our store up yet on Shopify. And we were very aware of that. Like, what we have here is not, It's not a business, it's a start and that's it.
Right? So what's a business. A business is when we have a website that acts as our store and people are coming to our website. We're getting them on there and they're buying stuff and that's consistent. That's a business.
So I remember December of 2016, we had our store up online, but we didn't launch it yet. Like we had a plan to do like a low where it now, like on. Unbound merino.com and come check it out and whatever. Well, we were working on that and I remember we leased because my business partner is still, you know, I, after the crowdfunding campaign, I walked away from my other company. I didn't sell Disney.
I just stepped out, gave it to my business partner and went full time on this with no salary. And I was only full time person. My two business partners were doing other work. One worked with biz media and he was doing freelance stuff on the side. And the other one was a creative director at an ad agency down the street here.
They had to go to their day jobs. Right? Cause they couldn't, you know, one night, one night, two kids as two kids in a, in a mortgage, you can't, you know, I could go a little more high risk. I didn't have any kids and stuff. I'm just, I'll just, I had a little bit of savings, which evaporated like as fast as you can imagine.
And, I was willing to do that. so we used to meet up at Starbucks at Oris local restaurant at seven in the morning, we do that twice a week at this point. And. I would work throughout the day, but that's the time I had with them for two hours. And I remember we met at Starbucks to go upload some photos onto our website, which wasn't yet launched and just sort of put the finishing touches on before we were going to get ready to launch this thing, which we were really trying to get out. Cause it was December and we thought we can still get some Christmas sales. I remember going into the backend of the website, the Shopify store, and there was at least a dozen sales that were just sitting here.
And we're like what? We didn't even announce this thing yet. Like why, where are these people coming from? And we realized there was a momentum from the crowdfunding campaign, a word of mouth momentum and, and I, the returning customer momentum that we just didn't even think of. Like it's kind of obvious. So, yeah, cause we had, we had to 2000 customers that we got from crowd funding and we're already starting to ship the product.
They love the product, we had a great thing. So they were coming back and telling their friends. So I remember we were like, Holy shit. And we rushed to, our little storage locker where we had all our reading inventory and we fulfilling these orders is going to fulfill these orders. And that was the start of it.
And that is an amazing driving force word of mouth. and we still get a ton of word of mouth because we focus so much on the product quality. So there's naturally going to be people that come back for more. They love the product. but then we started plugging, getting, you know, into new avenues of acquiring new customers, Facebook ads.
And so we did just like, we did spread too thin and we focused our energies on doing one thing at a time, but I'm telling you it's. The momentum, all comes from product quality. Word of mouth is the greatest way to grow a business. And we're experiencing that. So if there's anything I ever advise in the business, it's like, don't, don't rely on marketing and acquiring new customers as much as rely on creating a product that gets someone to come back. It's a much better way to, to, to think of a business. And that's, you know, we, we will only had t-shirts underwear and socks at the time, but yeah, we have a million things that we can do to get people come back where these new products for these new colors, you know, tee-shirt doesn't last forever. We have a good quality t-shirt that is because you don't need to wash it as much.
It doesn't get beaten up and worn down as easily. So these t-shirts really, really. Perform and last for the money, what you're spending, even though they're expensive. but people come back, they want more, they want more colors. They want more t-shirts, you know, a year passes a couple of years passed.
They want a fresh t-shirt. That's the name of the game for us is to try to create a good enough product that people love. our goal is to make the. In our opinion, the best black or black teachers, our core product we have another color is, but the best black crude act t-shirt on, on the planet is like our goal.
That's our core product. So if you have the, if we, if we have the best t-shirt, then people are gonna come back, right. Cause you're not gonna want to downgrade your t-shirt once you, once you've tried the best.
The Dark Side Of Amazon For Ecommerce Brands
Brandon Stover: [00:29:55] Right. Great. So I know you guys aren't on Amazon and one of our last guests, Eric Bandholz of beard brand, he chose not to be on Amazon because he wanted to be in control of the quality of their product. Just like you are with yours and then make more money on one customer by having them add, you know, more items from their website into the cart.
Dan Demsky: [00:30:16] Yep. And also Amazon is, if you, if you were to go and buy our tee-shirt, if it were on Amazon, we would not know who you are, Amazon. They don't share that. So. I would rather work harder to acquire a customer into our own email list, into our offer our own website, because then, like I said, the remarketing value of them, the returning customer rate, you have control and influence over Amazon to me is just that I've no interest in it for that reason.
It's just like you, because you're, you're forfeiting control over the most important thing that you're building, which is your customer list. If you're not building your customer list, you're not, what is your business? You're only you're it you're just chasing the deal, just like I was doing with biz media.
this is something that I've seen on Amazon is people will build up a brand. They'll make a boatload of money on Amazon. I've seen it, but the second. Amazon like changed their algorithm and it pushes you off. Like it's one of the top results off the first page. It's like your sales could go, can drop 90% in a day.
It's a crazy thing that they have the power to do. And they are also known to identify what the let's just say. I were to, come up. I'm just grabbing things near by little tea candles. Right. And I have the best tea candles and all of a sudden I'm selling an insane amount of these things. Amazon knows.
And Amazon also knows how to manufacture stuff. So Amazon basics could be around the corner. And once Amazon basics comes out, they're making tea candles, they're prioritizing there's over yours. So that just like that will just eat into your sales and they have all that control. So for me, it's like, they're, Amazon's like a carrot that dangles in front of your eyes.
It's like, do I want to go on Amazon? Because I could make a lot of money now. It sounds okay to make money, but it's short term thinking it's not really building a business, it's just making some money now. And I've seen, I've seen it many times. People make a ton of money and then all of a sudden they're making nothing
Brandon Stover: [00:32:20] How do you compete with the expectations that Amazon puts on other e-commerce sprints?
Dan Demsky: [00:32:26] like in terms of like how ridiculously faster shipping is, I could be here. You know what you do? You just deal with it. You compete. Amazon has set the stage and you know what, as much as I like there's things on Amazon that I can complain about, I complain about almost everything on Amazon, but I have an Amazon prime package coming.
Like it's like, I can't I to open my condo door. I'm like, I hope it's there. There's stuff I need. It's still convenient at times. But listen. We sell. It's kind of like a luxury product. It's an expensive product. And I don't think people, there are some things that there are some things that people will just want on Amazon period.
Like if you're, if you're going to buy a bunch of household items, a book that's always been for books, but let's just say there's a ideal or a specific deodorant brand. That I like, I buy it and Amazon, cause I don't want to buy it on the actual website because the shipping is just takes forever off the actual website, Amazon.
I know they're stocking, it's coming in the next day. So it's more convenient for me, but if I'm going to go buy. Something really premium and luxury, like a splurge thing. Like I, you know, I'm up in Canada, it gets freezing here. If I were to want to splurge on, let's say in a really expensive winter jacket, I'm not going to go to Amazon for that.
I want to go into the store or I want to go onto an eCommerce or have a really good brand I've identified and buy it direct. if I'm going to buy, like, could you, let's just, I've gone to watches at all, right? Like this is my one. Watch, it cost me like 90 bucks and I think it's the best watch. Like, cause it looks nice, tells the time it's simple.
Some people are really into watches and they'll, I think it's crazy, but you know, they'll spend a thousand, 2,000, 5,000, whatever, you know, people like watch us. I can't imagine someone spending $3,000 on a watch on Amazon. There are, they do exist, but if you're gonna go buy like a Rolex or something, do you want to buy that on Amazon?
Like, there's some things that just don't fit and we're playing in that game a little bit because we're a little bit of a luxury product. Our t-shirts are $68. I think people are not apt to wanting to purchase those kinds of things on Amazon. So that, that works for us
Brandon Stover: [00:34:47] yeah, you guys, as you mentioned earlier, like planning on trying to be a leader in your industry. What's your guys is plans for that?
Dan Demsky: [00:34:54] this is the way I see it. It's like we have. A really, really clear, not clear we have identified the way that we want to grow and we try to grow. We know we don't want to grow because we want to get rich. You know, we're not very money motivated. we want to grow because it's fun. The more we purchase from our suppliers, the more influence we have with them, the more that they're willing to work with us to, you know, When we have, when we're on the 10th version of a prototype and we're still not satisfied, they know that we're going to make that purchase.
It's going to be worth it. as we grow, we're noticing our influence in our, in our supply chain is changing. And that's exciting for us because we could start to change the expectations of our suppliers and do push, push the product development forward in ways that we couldn't do when we first started. That could be something that's an innovation in the fabric, really pushed to innovate how they, you know, the weave of the fabric is made so that it performs in a different way.
We can make more demands of tighter certifications because we are very, very serious about the ethical treatment of the employees that any factory work in, but also humane treatment of animals. We're working with sheep. So everyone has to be noodles free, which is not abusing as they cut the under the tail, which is some people say it's, it is humane, but. There it's very controversial and we just don't think it's necessary to have to cut the animal. Like, no, I look at it and wool, it's like a haircut it's like completely harmless to the animal. It's like if I were in standing in the 40 degrees, sweltering, heat, and Australia, I didn't want someone to come with a buzzer shave. I will offer no, no doubt.
I'm a huge animal guy, you know, I love, and if there were any. Inhumane treatment of animals. there's 0% chance that I'm working with that with that role supplier. but we have a group influence on the industry at large and the awareness at large.
So growth for us is about influence and influence is about having the power for change for good. I had the power of change for innovation and being interesting. So we have a roadmap of, for the products we want our lease, our strategies that we have. And it's all just for like, no, it's partially just for fun.
Like life's just like a big video game, right. Might as well get it, play it. Well.
How To Deal With Times Of Chaos
Brandon Stover: [00:37:28] Yeah. with COVID recently hitting and like hitting the travel industry pretty big. how have you guys kind of pivoted or moved your messaging around during this time?
Dan Demsky: [00:37:36] that's a good question because, you know, we really position ourselves as a travel brand and that messaging worked like super well for us, up until there was a global travel parent band. And when there's a global travel ban, your travel messaging sucks. So we, when COVID hit back in March that we were growing rapidly. And for the first time ever, our sales went down, like we were like used to a hundred percent growth and now we're like down 50%. Like it was, it was a crazy change of momentum and it scared us. We just immediately went to the it's like war, war, room mentality. Like, what are we going to do? first thing we have to do is change the messaging, pivot, like everything on their ads, our website, you know, we still mention travel, but it's not our focus, which is nice.
It broadens out our appeal a little bit. And then we were thinking about, and then people were really not interested in buying expensive luxury products. You know, people are losing their jobs. There's like the whole world was changing and a lot of eCommerce brands that completely blew up, but ours was not one that like blew up.
We actually took a hit, but as things started to normalize a little bit, people start spending money. Again, we've adapted to what our messaging was. And we started implementing, you know, a lot of marketing strategies that we weren't before, because we just to be perfectly blunt. We were probably a little lazy because our, we were growing so rapidly that we didn't need to do all everything under the sun to get more money.
Right. So we started doing things like. Marketing automation flows. So if you bought off us in the past since the beginning, but you've never bought underwear, or if you've bought off us, you've ever bought underwear after the one month Mark, it would trigger an email that would talk about our underwear, which is fantastic.
And we'd set that up and it almost feels like a, like a trap, like a bear trap. Like it's a, you put it out there and it starts to work on its own. Right? So. We started noticing how this underwear email's really starting to generate money. We're not doing anything. So we will start to, you know, create more of those marketing automation flows and a bunch of other things.
And what we've noticed is that fear that we had that war mentality forced us to do things we could have been doing all along anyway.
Brandon Stover: [00:39:54] okay.
Dan Demsky: [00:39:56] And it was a reminder, something that I think would be very obvious to my younger self, but I think I forgot along the way. Never let yourself get comfortable, even if you it's okay to be comfortable, like I've would be fine.
I didn't need, I don't need to do this because the business is going in a good direction. I love what I'm doing. I can work at a slow pace. I used to be an insane in my twenties. I used to work like an animal. I'm working a little less things are a little more comfortable lifestyle and that laziness makes you miss opportunities.
And ultimately, I mean, that's fine. If you just want to like live that way. But if you really want to achieve what your own version of greatnesses, you have to treat comfort as sort of the enemy, like never be satisfied and that's okay. That's a good thing because that's all of the, the downfall that comes from laziness.
Cause comfort just breeds, laziness, and laziness just stops you from achieving your personal greatness. There are people like you look at like pro athletes. It's like the top guys. It's like, do you need to win another championship? Do don't you want to go a few beers in the cheeseburger with your buddies?
It's like, they're they're after it. They, you know, this is, this is the time of my life, where I could work the hardest. COVID reacquainted me with the pitfalls of laziness, because so many things we're doing now where it was just corrections from previous laziness and it feels good.
It feels good to feel like we're firing all cylinders again. And we brought our revenues way back up again. So everything is working out well now. And I think Colbert has made us better, stronger, happier, and with a better direction.
Brandon Stover: [00:41:40] Taking that chaos and really grabbing it by the horns and making it something useful. How have you used chaos in the past as an entrepreneur?
Dan Demsky: [00:41:49] Oh, man. Chaos is the best motivator. You know, I've had times in biz media and I've had times, you know, when I was trying to start up Unbound Moreno where it's like, this is all so tiring and chaotic, but it's what gets your mind going? You know, it's like the hard times is what breeds some of the best thinking.
I think it's like, if things are going well, it's again, it's easy to just fall into the trap of laziness. You have to sort of like, remember what, what, what motivated me to work that hard? And I had no energy, no money, no time. all I had was belief to start Unbound when my business coach told me, so you're not the guy to do this.
They're not going to be able to do it. Like if he's not believing, this is a guy who is there to help you see the path, But he's telling me I can't do it. That's all I chaos to me. I'm like, what am I not, I didn't do this anyway. You know, it's in those times when you, you really roll up your sleeves and do your best work, become the best view, I guess.
How To Start A Business With Your Best Friends
Brandon Stover: [00:42:47] you had, a Reddit post a while back that was talking about everything you've learned as an entrepreneur and a lot of those lessons revolved around the people that you surround yourself with and for you doesn't been your best friends. So how have you successfully started and run business with your friends?
Dan Demsky: [00:43:05] there could be a lot of luck in that in the fact that my best friends are dope. You know, they're like ambitious and smart and hardworking and creative, you know, and they all have their own strong suits. Like dino. My business partner is just brilliant with. Vision his thoughts.
So he named our company and like, he has a way of formulating words. That's his, that's his, that's his specialty, you know, but he's not someone who will grind like my other business partner, Andrew. Andrew, if he wakes up, if he had no distractions, so he didn't have any other places to be, he could work at tonewood.
So he's passing out at night and accomplishing anything. And so. It's important to be around people like that, that have incredible skills and drive because that rubs off on you. I'm lucky that my best friends are like that. A lot of people say, business and friendship don't mix. That is like the antithesis of how I've ever lived. I think it does mix, for the very reason that you could be more candid with your best friends and it could be anyone.
I'll tell you a quick story. I remember my old business when we started out, I first moved downtown and I w my, my business, well, no, it wasn't my business partner at the time. I think he was my roommate at the time. And I remember I said, Hey, Andrew, do you want to go, take our laptops. Go grab a beer and we'll get some work done at the Firkin pub. Yeah. And, it gets worked on there and he's like, Hey, yeah, I'm just finishing this email and then we'll go and look perfect.
Been waiting his laptop. And he's just like, okay. You know, focused, angry, look on his face and he's writing and writing, writing, and then like, I'll give him 10 minutes. He's still just writing. And then like, dude, you're ready to go. Almost done, almost done. And like, you look pissed off. He's like, I am, I'm writing it. I'm just, I'm sharing some important thoughts. I'm like with who, who are you writing this angry email to? He's like, Oh, it's for you.
And I laugh. Cause I just like, I'm going for a beer with him. There's no sweat off his back, but he, candidly wants to tell me how much I messed something up, you know, and I need to know and we could be, and we could, he could literally, like, it was a huge viscerally, visually angry, right. This email and I was waiting for him to finish it. So I go for a beer with him and the emails to me.
And that encapsulates everything that there is to know about business and friendship mixing. Well, because if you actually are like best buds friends, it's like, you could tell it like it is without offense, share your perspective, not be offended by it because at the end of the day, we really want what's best for each other.
I never need to be the show. You know, if he, if I win, they win and I want them to win and I want, I want them to do well. I want them to grow. And if one of them is lagging, I can say that you're lagging. Like I could say that to them. And they know that I'm just trying to like, get the best out of them.
Cause it's the best for dab. It's best for us as the best for everyone. That's the best part of business and friendship. Fortunately, we ha I, I happened to be best friends with people that just want to do well. They want the most of life. They want to squeeze everything they can into the life and they have the drive ambition and brains to do it.
So, you know, that's always been something that's very important to me is that this is my favorite quotes live by, which is basically a cliche, but you're the average of the five people closest to you. It's so obviously true. It's like, if you're around people that don't really care to, like, do it take anything out of life, then that becomes okay.
If you don't, you don't want to be the weirdo. Who's like working hard and trying hard. You surround yourself with people that are achievers and believe in themselves. You start to adopt that as what you think is the norm. So I'm very careful in particular, but who I let in my immediate circle it's important and it should be mindful of that.
Brandon Stover: [00:47:08] Throughout this interview and just in a story, there's this idea of you having fun with what you're doing in life? You know, obviously starting a business with your buddies is a lot more fun than maybe somebody that you don't know. and you kind of shared the perspective about business being just like a, a game.
So can you kind of share that mentality with us?
Dan Demsky: [00:47:29] you can go through life and you can just make enough money to get by. Maybe stow away a little bit of money and maybe buy a house and take a look at two weeks of vacation a year. And. Or you could just like, think about how you want to live life to the fullest. Like it's like you have, I have a choice of how you want to attempt to live your life.
I just feel like some people just choose to live it differently. They choose to put the pedal down on the throttle a little bit harder. I don't relate to people who don't want to do that. And to be honest, I consciously don't want to relate to that. I don't want to live. and I, and that, that means sometimes I don't live safely, you know, I mean, not dangerous.
Like I'm only a Daredevil, but like, there's been times when it's like, shit, like I've run into walls that like might or might kill someone else from a heart attack if they went through it, you know, like big business mistakes, but I'm willing to deal with it and realize that it's all, we're all just cosmic dust anyway. None of it matters. Just why not while you're eyes are open to the world to just live it, like in the biggest way that you can and try to figure that out. So that's just, that's fun. That's the game of it's me.
I remember when we started the biz media, I told her the story of how fast it grew. I felt like I was like same age as Mark Zuckerberg, you know, were born the same year and that, and when he was starting up, I was starting up and I was sort of looked at him as like, wow, look at what Fe, if this is what Facebook is not near where it is now, but still it was an enormous thing. And it was becoming popular and famous.
I looked at him as like a peer now, I don't think I'm peers with Mark Zuckerberg anymore, but at that time, even though he was like starting one of the world's most important companies, I just like he had that like spunky young attitude and I had it too. we made a choice to go. Really hard. And I felt like we were on top of the world and I remember my friend or, you know, just in their second, third year university at the time.
And you know, they're accumulating all the student debt, I'm building this company. And I felt like I figured something out that the food world around me figure it out. But something like Zuckerberg did. It's like you could do things at this age on your own. All this stuff that I felt really great about it.
And then we hit these business challenges for so catastrophic that ever my friends are now out of school, getting careers at byte. And I'm like cutting my own salary down. And then like, I felt like I work harder than any of these people. Why am I suffering now? Right. Like why? And you compare yourself to people and you feel bad, but I realized I don't care.
I'm on my own path. I'm going to continue to Excel at and continue to work hard and I'm going to continue to gain insight and I'm going to not let these challenges destroy me. And I'm so grateful. You just hang in the, you know, you stay in the ring because you go through ups and downs. The entrepreneurial rollercoaster is really crazy and it's not for everyone.
It's not always good. It's when it's good. It's way better than anything else. You know, some people say like, Oh, it's all for everyone. It's like, well, if it can be for anybody, it really can be. You just have to have a lot of resilience go through the really hard times. And if you realize those hard times are meaningless, you come out the other end and just stronger, smarter, like you can't learn a lesson the better way than to just dive in feet first head first, whatever.
So, Yeah, I've just always just trying to keep life full throttle. I have, I have big ambitions and it's not money motivated. I don't need a boat or a fancy car. I do it just because it's like, why not live life in a, I don't need to live it with the coloring in between the lines. I'd rather draw the lines and say, these are, this is the coloring book I want.
Brandon Stover: [00:51:14] for get to my last question, where can everybody find you in Unbound Marina?
Dan Demsky: [00:51:19] if you want to find me. It's Dan Demsky D a N D M S K Y at Unbound Merino, U N B O U N D M E R I N o.com or on any of the social things. And that's where you'll find this.
How Dan Believes We Can Push The World To Evolve
Brandon Stover: [00:51:32] Well, my last question is how can we push the world to evolve?
Dan Demsky: [00:51:36] Oh, man. It's a devolve, which it is. Do you ever watch the movie? Idiocracy okay. That's a, that's a, that's a good one that shows where the world might be heading. It's not getting any smarter. Honestly, let's just see what Elon Musk announces in August. That's going to force the world to evolve pretty fast.
Do you crutches in the world is politics. Politics, just district everything meaningful. And they're important in the sense of like, you know, holding governments accountable. But I feel like this whole left first right thing is, feels a whole lot like Yankees or red Sox to me, that's just like, whatever.
At the end of the day, it's just game. Like you guys are all just picking a side for the, it's not even about like what's right. The more it's about the other team losing more than it is about like, Ideas winning. It's like focus on ideas, read a lot. Don't consume too much media hang around, good people and focus on yourself.
Brandon Stover: [00:52:32] Dan, I think that's some solid advice. And I appreciate you coming on the podcast today and sharing everything that you had.
Dan Demsky: [00:52:38] Thanks so much for having me.