Periodically on this blog I take time out from my own adventures to tell you about someone who has followed their passion until it paid off. This helps remind me—and I hope you as well –that if you stick with it (whatever your “it” is) it will pay off one way or another.
A few weeks back I had the opportunity to interview Andy Dunn, the co-founder and CEO of Bonobos, at the party to celebrate the retailor’s new brick and mortar “guideshop” right off of Boston’s Newbury Street. Boston was the site of the company’s first physical presence for getting up close and personal (not to mention trying on) with their wares (you still have to make a purchase online), having operated solely via e-commerce until about a year ago.
Dunn started Bonobos (named after particularly promiscuous primate, I’m going to leave that alone) by making a commitment to better fitting pants for men. “Fit” is a fashion buzz word most commonly associated with women’s attire. Some would argue that men’s jeans and khakis don’t really “fit” at all; they sag and hang lifelessly from their owners’ bodies, suspended somewhere below their wastes (and sometimes even below their butts) by a hardworking belt. That ended in 2007 when Dunn’s co-founder and business school classmate, Brian Spaly, started altering his pants after getting fed-up with their ill-fitting construction. That’s when the two friends started following their passion to create a better fitting pant, and embarked on their mission to — the in the words of The New York Times — “banish the saggy bottom.” (Dunn and Spaly parted ways in 2009 amid creative differences. Spaly has gone on to create Trunk Club).
Speaking with Dunn in a corner of the bustling party, it was clear that he’s truly passionate about the company, its employees and its line of menswear that has expanded to include not only chinos, but also jeans, button-down shirts, suits, blazers, T-shirts, ties and a host of accessories. Pocket square anyone? Dunn’s face and tone emits the enthusiasm he has for his company and its products.
Bonobos made a name for itself not only based on great fit, but also on customer service. As an e-commerce site, their business model relied heavily on a generous lifetime return policy and knowledgeable personnel to provide assistance purchasing a product online that arguably everyone would prefer to see in person and try on. Their customer service representatives, known as “style ninjas,” are available via email, phone and twitter.
Dunn and I spoke about the difficulty of following your passion when there’s no guarantee that it will pay off or even get off the ground. “The leap is scary, but empowering,” he said, describing the initial venture. Contrary to what I would have thought, he said it hasn’t become any less scary as the company has grown, despite its mounting success. Now he has 120 employees who depend on him and the company.
“Both our customers and employees love the product and love the company,” he said referring to being named one of the Top 50 Best Places to work by Crain’s New York Business. “So I know we’re doing something right.” By any measure, Bonobos is a success. In addition to $8 million in initial funding cobbled together from 100 angel investors, Dunn and company just went through s second round of financing totaling $30 million, including more than $16 million from Nordstrom, where Bonobos are now also available.
Dunn said he learned a very important lesson on a trip to a Kenyan village towards the end of business school, and it’s stayed with him ever since. “It’s not risky to do what you love, it’s risky not to.” That idea really resonated with me (not that this blog is all about me…well…I guess it is) and has stayed with me even weeks later. It doesn’t matter if 500 people read this blog, or 5,000. I’m not doing this for you (no offense). I am doing it for me, and the fact that hundreds of you enjoy reading about my escapades–and appreciate my honesty when I’m having a “crisis” (of varying degrees)–is just a big ‘ol perk, but not one that I take for granted. The leap I am taking though this blog is bound to impact my life (and already has) in some unexpected ways, and as Dunn says, it’s much riskier for me not to do it than to jump in head first.
Thanks to Andy Dunn and all the lovely folks at Bonobos. You can see, feel and try on Bonobos by making an appointment at their guideshop on Dartmouth and Newbury, or at one of their five other locations, and make a purchase at www.bonobos.com. I was not compensated in any way for this post (But full disclosure, if they made women’s clothes I may have asked to be. Just kidding. Sort of).