Finance

328: Building a $50M Underwear Empire off $20K | Joanna Griffiths KNIX

CEO of global intimates brand Knixwear Joanna Griffiths sits down with Nathan Chan to reveal how she took $20k to and made $50m in revenue last year.

In this wonderfully inspiring episode, Griffiths’ discusses how she became an “accidental entrepreneur” with Knixwear. Initially begun as a passion project to create high-quality leak-proof intimates, Griffiths’ put aside her initial goal to run her own media company and instead decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.

In school, her business plan won a competition, and she used the $20k prize to begin chasing her dream of solving a universal problem. After years of trials and errors, including a first-time sample order of 40,000 pairs of underwear, Knixwear quickly found it’s feet and is now a $50m a year company. Knixwear has 85 employees globally, and Griffiths’ still reels at the idea that her company sells an item every 6 seconds.

Listen in as Griffiths’ discusses the lows and the highs of being a first-time business owner, TV advertising, and why she always chooses the path of risk so she doesn’t look back and wonder “what if”.

Nathan: So the first question I ask everyone that comes on is how’d you get your job?

Joanna: I had to make it for myself.

Nathan: Yeah, I see. So how did you find yourself doing the work you’re doing today? Was KNIX the first company you started?

Joanna: Yeah, KNIX was my first company. So I founded the company a little over seven years ago. So I’ve been at this for a while. In my previous life, I worked in the media and entertainment industry. So I was a music publicist at Universal Music, worked in film and television, and ultimately went back to school to do an MBA with the thought process that I would someday run a media company.

And within the first week really of being at school, I was chatting with some classmates about an idea I had, which ended up being KNIX. And so really in the beginning… KNIX is intimate brand, for those who aren’t aware. And the first set of products that we started making were really great looking vendor wear. So not a sexy problem, but definitely a universal problem.

And when I was at school in those first few weeks, I just really became kind of super passionate about solving this problem and took every opportunity I could to really do research, interview people, make progress and ultimately kind of pass the point of no return where it seemed like a bigger risk to not do it than to do it. And so I guess I’m an accidental entrepreneur in that regard.

Nathan: Interesting. So you talked about kind of it was a bigger risk not to do it. Why?

Joanna: I think I’m one of those people that really follows their heart and their passions. And I think I was so fixated on the concept and I was so passionate about it that if I didn’t do it, I would have this constant risk in my life that I would be looking back and asking what if. And at the end of the day, when talking with family or talking with my now partner about it, the prospect of always wondering what would have happened and sort of carrying that with me for the rest of my life felt like a bigger risk to take than saying, okay, I’m going to give this a year. I’m going to see what happens. The worst thing that can happen is it goes nowhere, but then at least I’ll know that I tried.

Nathan: Yeah. I love that attitude. That’s a great attitude, because I think oftentimes people they don’t start or they don’t try or they think, they wish, they wonder because they scared of failure and they’re scared of what other people would think. Were you in a position where you had a lot of capital to get your first order? How did you get funds to make the placement for the first MOQ?

Joanna: Yeah. So I ended up doing a business plan competition at my school and won that. And so won the first like $20,000 to kind of start the business. I came back to Toronto, which is where I’m based, and worked part time for the first few months until really I felt like my time was the limiting factor, where I was the person who was holding back decisions being made or progress being made.

And with that $20,000, I actually got pretty far. I got all the way through prototype development, made a lot of progress. And then ultimately ended up doing a small run before launching and then doing an Indiegogo campaign, sort of like launched KNIX right at the peak of crowdfunding. So did an Indiegogo campaign. I mean, to be honest with you, the first order that I did was probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made because I just had no idea what I was doing.

The minimums in underwear were really, really high. I think I bought, I don’t know, 40,000 pairs of underwear or something. And you don’t do everything perfect out of the gate. I think any entrepreneur will say that it’s progress over perfection. But when you have 40,000 units of underwear, it’s just kind of like burning a hole in your in your back pocket.

I joke that I still feel like we have those early pairs kicking around because we obviously got feedback and made improvements to the product and all these different things along the way. That I needed a decent amount of money buy that much underwear.

Nathan: So in the underwear space, 40,000 is the MOQ. Did you sell that many? Did you move to the mall?

Joanna: Eventually, but it took awhile. Yeah. So by the time that you break down styles and colours, yeah, it adds up pretty quick.

Nathan: Okay. Interesting. And it sounds like you’ve got a really great story of kind of just working things out along the way. You said you raised a very small seed round. Was that from friends and family?

Joanna: Yeah, it was predominantly friends and family, some alumni that went to my school, though like really angel investors at that point in time.

Nathan: Okay. Just for clarity for everyone watching, can we kind of quickly fast forward today before we loop back just around the traction and kind of where’s the company at today. Can you share any notable figures, annual revenue, units sold, team size, anything at all, market share, just to get clarity?

Joanna: For sure. So last year we passed $50 million in revenue and we’re growing at about 50% year over year. So we sell a KNIX item basically every six seconds, which is faster than I would’ve thought. My team is 85 people and we sell a hundred percent online, with the exception of we recently started opening our own KNIX branded retail stores. So we have two of those at the moment with… Well, the plan was to open more, but that’s been on pause since COVID.

So that’s where we are now. I’d say the first couple of years building KNIX I was really focused on the wholesale channels. So I spent three years on the road at trade shows and different things like that. And in 2016, having done that for a few years, I made the decision to totally pivot the business and to move out of wholesale and to focus selling online.

So I pulled out of over 800 retail stores, basically started over, and launched as a direct to consumer brand first. And so all of our growth has really been since I made that decision. We grew just under 4000% in three years. And yeah, it was like one of the bolder moves I think that I’ve made, but it was definitely the right one. I think when we’re early founders or entrepreneurs, there’s this tendency or desire to feel like you have to say yes to everything and you never want to turn down an opportunity.

At least for me, I found that I spread myself really thin and we never really got good at any one thing because I was saying yes to so many different things. So for us, or for me at least, it was really an exercise and kind of starting to say no and focusing and really committing to getting great at a couple of things. And that’s when we started to take off.

Nathan: Yeah. Well, that’s a very, very common theme. That once you get a little bit attraction, if you really want to scale your company, you just need to do less and focus. Crazy.

Joanna: Which you can only learn through experience. People told me that early on and I was like, “That sounds… No. I don’t think so. That doesn’t make any sense. Why would I say no to something?” And then you slowly start to learn that when you say yes, it’s at the detriment of something else. So yeah, absolutely.

Nathan: Yeah. That’s a sign of, I guess, entrepreneurial maturity. Hey?

Joanna: Yes, definitely. It takes a while.

Nathan: Yeah. Okay. So let’s talk about kind of those early days. The early day stories are always interesting to me because if someone looks at everything you’ve accomplished now, it would seem really out of sight. And a lot of people watching this might be looking to start a business or they might have recently launched something or they’re working on an e-commerce product.

And moving one KNIX pair of underwear every three seconds, that’s crazy. $50 million in annual revenue, obviously on track to do nine figures very soon in the next few years. And probably I assume maybe COVID has a little bit accelerated that. The eCommerce space is booming. So let’s talk about those early days. So why did you decide to do an Indiegogo campaign?

We’ve done an Indiegogo. We did a Kickstarter then Indiegogo. We listed on Indiegogo afterwards as the extension. But why did you decide to do that for this particular product? Because generally it’s more invention style.

Joanna: For sure. No, you’re absolutely right. We were a bit of an outlier. So I started with Indiegogo. I did the opposite of you. And then later went to Kickstarter. And I guess when I launched KNIX, crowdfunding was just starting to kick off. I really didn’t have any experience or background in apparel. And so going into making that first order, which was like huge, huge, as I mentioned, I felt like I couldn’t mess it up.

And so what I viewed crowdfunding as enabling me to do was to get feedback before I committed to the order to understand what customers would be looking for in terms of styles and sizing breakdown and silhouettes and whatnot. And I learned a tonne from that experience. I would have ordered not the right things without the feedback and input from those first, I don’t know, a thousand customers, or whatever it was.

And then I would also say that it really ingrained this philosophy and approach that we’ve taken at KNIX ever since, which is a true community approach to building our company and our brand and not being afraid to ask customers what they’re looking for and to use them as kind of like the inspiration for products. And so I was able to learn that early on through the crowdfunding process. But we were an outlier. Definitely.

It was just what you did at the time. Does that make sense? It was like peak hype. I feel like 2013, 2014, that was the year that people did crowdfunding campaigns to launch their businesses. And when the media still cared about it, they would still write about a crowdfunding campaign. A lot has changed since then.

Nathan: Interesting. So you launched on Indiegogo. That’s how you got your first 1000 customers?

Joanna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nathan: Okay. That’s actually smart, because they have an audience of buyers. That platform has an audience of buyers, as opposed to running Facebook ads, which people try and do, or do the PPC play, or build up a community on Instagram or send to influences. You just went to a market where people are looking to buy.

Joanna: Yeah, exactly. It had a built in audience and community. So that was really, really helpful. Although I will say that how we ended up getting into wholesale in the first place was I quickly discovered that it’s still really hard in the early days to convince people to buy your product. You’re kind of going one person at a time. And so through that campaign came up with the idea to if I was going to spend time and energy trying to get one person to buy, maybe I should try and get a department store to buy.

And so we pitched and convinced the largest department store in Canada to place a pre-order through our campaign. And that kind of put us on the map, I guess you could say, from a media perspective, in terms of doing something different. But it set me on a path that I was not expecting to go on, which I’ve had it about a three year detour of selling wholesale.

Nathan: Yep. So you got kind of hooked to the big PO orders, landing the wild clients or the wild orders probably. Can I assume not making the best margin and having cashflow issues?

Joanna: Terrible for cashflow. Yeah. Absolutely. And not ideal if you have limited access to funds, I would say.

Nathan: Yeah. Retail and wholesale is an interesting one. I have no experience with it. But yeah, retail wasn’t for you guys for cashflow and margin reasons.

Joanna: Well, ultimately what made me pull out of wholesale was two things. So we later went back and did another crowdfunding campaign, a Kickstarter campaign. And that was when we were expanding our products and getting into bras. So I went back online and we sold more in 30 days than I did in the first three years of the business. So we actually had a really successful campaign.

We did $1.7 million in pre-sales for probably the most unlikely product of all time. It was a bra. It was not a gadget. It only appealed to a certain percentage of people on the platform, but it went really well. And so my eyes were kind of open to the fact that, wow, this is really a product that people were interested in buying online. So that was part of it.

The other piece was we’re a very mission focused company. Part of the reason why I was so passionate about starting KNIX in the first place was because I really saw the opportunity to have a positive impact on women’s lives. And what I found over the course of being in wholesale and building KNIX was that we’ve really been at the forefront at a whole bunch of movements. So sizing inclusivity and body positivity to begin with. And from our early days, we always offered a pretty wide size range.

And what I found was the retail partners just weren’t ready for it. And so the more that we as a brand dug into storytelling and more purpose-driven marketing, there is such a huge disconnect between what we would say on our Instagram page as an example and the experience that a KNIX customer would have at a store, where they would be turned away because they didn’t carry their size or they would have this really negative experience. So ultimately because of really a lack of brand alignment, we decided to cut off that main revenue channel and to try and do something different.

Nathan: Yeah, I see. So during that three years time period, did you have to let anyone go to restart?

Joanna: No, because we were so small. I was under five people until 2016. It was like tiny, tiny, tiny. So when you have one person in operations and one person in marketing, there’s no one to let go really. I will say that there was a moment when there’s a natural sort of just transition within the company and our team where I started changing the way that I hired. And instead of going for people who maybe had had a lot of wholesale experience and that came from the retail and apparel space, really the more entrepreneurial kind of startup growth minded people.

Nathan: Okay. That makes sense. I think it is smart and that is often a trend, if a brand does a Kickstarter or a crowdfunding campaign and it gets funded and they have success, it’s actually really smart to do it again. So we did a book. I don’t have it with me. Oh yeah, I do. We did this book. The interview is not about me, but we did this coffee table book, which got insights from some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time.

And one thing that I learned was a lot of people if they have a successful campaign, we didn’t do as well as you, we did a couple hundred thousand, but people often do it again. And when you go out the second time, you learn from your mistakes. That book, we charged $40 shipping for it. We sold it for $40 and we charged $40 shipping for it.

So you could imagine how much better we could have done if we just built shipping into the cost. But to the point, we didn’t know anything. That kind of naive. So yeah, I’d love to hear, what did you do the second time round that made it such a gang buster?

Joanna: I still don’t know if we did it that right. We brought our own community to the platform. So I’d say that was a big thing. So when we launched the product, we had the first like few thousand people that were really excited to buy. And then as you know, it’s like all about the algorithms. So if you start getting great traction, then you all of a sudden become a top pick or one to watch and you get an email newsletter or you’re on the homepage.

And so it sort of becomes this self building prophecy. I did a lot of work on the prep around PR pitching. And we got really lucky. I used to work in PR before I started KNIX. But one of my hats, I guess you could say, is I’m a huge fan of finding interns that work at publications that are writing. So maybe they’ve written one or two articles, but no normal PR agency would have their contact information or pitch them.

So I did that. I found an internet Mashable who I think had written one or two articles. And I pitched her on LinkedIn because I didn’t even know her email. And she wrote a piece that got picked up because at the time, if Mashable wrote something, a whole bunch of places would pick it up. It got picked up by so many places. And so that was a huge breakthrough for us.

Really putting polish into the video and all of the photography assets was really important. And then I always used to… I mean, I haven’t done this in so long like you. I feel like I used to be more of an expert, but you set your target really low. You create early bird pricing deals where if you sell maybe early bird, you automatically hit your target. You try and crush your target in the first 24 hours. And then the thing kind of has momentum and a life of its own.

But I still did stuff so terribly, and this was before the ecosystem had really been developed. We offered our bras and the selection of all of our underwear. And in some cases people would buy 15 or 16 items. So we had millions of permutations in terms of what was possible for people to order. And it took eight months to fulfil because it was so complicated.

So Kickstarter is great if you’re like, “Hey, do you want this coffee table book or do you want two coffee table books or do you want the book and a t-shirt?” You know what I mean? It’s not designed for what 15 items you want and what sizes, colours, style combination. So I think I still have PTSD after that campaign. It nearly broke me, honestly.

Nathan: Wow. That’s crazy. So what happened after that? That’s when you guys really hit the ground running, right? You probably would have had to go on a bit of a hiring spree.

Joanna: Yeah, we took it day by day. I mean, to build all of our orders, we switched over and changed fulfilment centres because the people that took eight months were not the people we could work with going forward. Yeah. We relaunched it as online first in September of 2016 and then just grew very quickly after that, figuring out online marketing, figuring out all of the pieces.

Nathan: Yeah. What was the first channel that you guys started? Was it influences with Instagram or was it Facebook ads?

Joanna: It was Facebook ads for us. I think coming from the crowdfunding world and really getting great at those problem solutions videos, it was prime for 2016, 2017 marketing on Facebook. So that was how we started. And then it sort of seems like every $10 million in incremental revenue that you do, you need to find a new channel to break through on. And so it’s just consistently finding new channels as you grow.

Nathan: So what was the KNIX channel?

Joanna: We started finding some great brand ambassadors, like built out an ambassador programme. That worked really well for us. We started doing better at PR, really good customer service and work that way. Word of mouth picked up and repeat rates picked up. And then I’d say more recently it’s in TV marketing, like TV advertising.

Nathan: TV advertising, that works?

Joanna: Yeah, totally. We work with an amazing partner that’s called Tatari. And it’s actually a company that’s founded by the guy who started Shazam. Do you know that platform?

Nathan: Of course. Yeah.

Joanna: So they sync up with your Google analytics and basically you get a cost per visit and a cost per acquisition of every single TV spot that you air, and I’m talking like thousands of them. And then you can refocus and reallocate your dollars based on the shows, the time slot, the day of the week that are performing the best. And so it takes the blind guesswork out of TV marketing and lets you do it in a much more performance kind of programmatic way. Yeah, it’s very cool. It’s very cool.

Nathan: Yeah. So you would happily spend dollars there because you can measurably acquire customers at scale?

Joanna: Absolutely. Maybe I’m watching CNN and I see that whenever ads come on and then within a few minutes I’ll be able to see just exactly how many people made a purchase from seeing that ad.

Nathan: How do they track that?

Joanna: Within Google analytics. So they look for the traffic visits spikes, and then they monitor on the back end those people who come and visit the site. And then they monitor for 30 days trailing to see if they come back and make a purchase.

Nathan: So they look for the spike and they attribute that spike to the particular commercials?

Joanna: Yeah. And so every few seconds they’re resetting the baseline for your traffic. Basically what could happen before is you could have a spot that airs on, I don’t know, some small network that was super cheap. And at the same time you could have a spot that airs on Good Morning America, one of the most expensive programmes. And let’s say you saw a spike in sales.

In the old days, you would probably think, “Oh, it must’ve been Good Morning America.” But now actually what they can do on their end is they can break it down and say, you know what? Actually, it was the cheaper small site that brought this much revenue and you had this CPA. The Good Morning America spot, even though it aired within this five seconds in that spot, it actually wasn’t the driver of it.

And so it’s the only way I got comfortable with TV because I think having bootstrapped, scrappy founder for so long, I was never really comfortable with the prospect of anything that involved a really big financial commitment where I had no idea what the outcome was going to be. It felt really risky. So this was the way that we got comfortable with it.

Nathan: Around the TV ads and the creative itself, can you guys use just creative that’s worked on Facebook or YouTube or you have to go out and shoot custom stuff. Is that expensive? Like how much exactly? You get agencies involved, right?

Joanna: Well, no. So one of the first things that I did when we transitioned KNIX to the e-comm first is we built our own creative shop, basically. So my husband was the creative director at an ad agency and he left his job and came in-house. And so we are very, very self-sufficient when it comes to everything at KNIX. We don’t really work with a lot of agency partners.You do mostly everything in house.

So when it comes to TV creative… We just actually filmed our third TV commercial yesterday, I said last night because it ended so late. So typically what we do is we come up with a concept in house and then we have a freelance production company that we work with and we pick the directors and we sort of build it ourselves. It doesn’t have to be that expensive. It just has to be creative that it kind of breaks through.

Nathan: Okay. Awesome. Yeah, that’s really smart. A lot of fast growing direct to consumer e-comm brands, they do creative in-house because that’s the game. So you guys must be pretty big spenders on Facebook, YouTube, just all PPC, right?

Joanna: We spend a decent amount. Yeah.

Nathan: It’s all about the creative. That’s a big part of creating copy.

Joanna: Yeah. And anytime that I’ve tried to work with agency partners on something like creative, you spend so much time bringing people up to speed and sharing the context of what’s going on. So what we’ve found is it’s all the fast iteration, testing and learning, getting better. And keeping everything in-house just means that that feedback loop is so much faster and more effective.

Nathan: Yeah. I guess you have people thinking about your brand all day, every day. You guys are focused on the mission and the customers and you’re speaking to the customers and you’re looking at what people are saying and you’re looking at what’s working.

Joanna: Constantly. Yeah. Exactly. We live and breathe it.

Nathan: Okay. I’m curious, how big is your media buying team?

Joanna: So we have about seven people on that team that do everything paid.

Nathan: And that does not include the creative team?

Joanna: Not including our creative team.

Nathan: Okay. So I assume you’d have a lead media buyer, like head of customer acquisition and then one person for each channel. Is that how you’ve broken it down?

Joanna: Yeah. We have a couple of people that manage Facebook and Instagram, one person that manages more new channels, so things like Pinterest or YouTube, where we’re experimenting. I like search SEM that does most of our Google staff. A TV person. Yeah. So it’s sort of split in that way.

Nathan: So it’s broke down by mainly channel?

Joanna: Mainly by channel. Yeah. Exactly.

Nathan: And did you find it hard? Because something that I do hear from some founders more in the earliest stage, they have this kind of apprehension to move away from an agency and bring media buying internally because they say, well, if this person was so good, they just have their own agency or they do for themselves. Did you find it difficult to find and build a great media buying team? What experience could you share there?

Joanna: Yeah. So I’ve probably taken the opposite approach. I found someone really early. I read a newspaper article and their name came up and they stuck out to me. So I need a cold call. I literally reached out to this person. And he had such a sketchy website. I can’t even tell you. I can’t believe I’m calling this person when I’m going to give it a shot.

And so he helped it in the early days with our paid Facebook marketing. But instead of hiring him to run the account, I hired him to train people on my team. So from the very beginning, we’ve taken the approach of training internally versus using agencies. I’ve tried to use agencies once or twice, usually if a key person leaves and you’re kind of stuck, and it has been the biggest disaster of all time. In 2018, I switched agencies for one month and they lost $600,000 in a single month.

Nathan: In revenue?

Joanna: No, like negative. They spent so much money that the company ended up losing that much in a single month. At the time, we were a profitable company. So that was a huge loss for us. No agency I’ve worked with has cared to the level or extent that we’ve cared. And so we’ve always taken this approach. My company is based in Toronto. There aren’t a tonne of e-commerce brands or even necessarily retail brands that are marketing on these channels.

Joanna: So there never was a huge talent pool that I could go and poach someone from. So we’ve taken this approach of training, really investing in the people that are on our teams. And now we spend a lot of time with the folks at Facebook in Canada and they would argue that we have the best performance team in the whole country. And it’s just hiring smart people. That’s how we’ve done it. It’s certainly not for everybody. But I don’t love being beholden to agency partners.

Nathan: Yeah. Look, I think that’s the way to go. That seems like the common thread among speaking to founders. Look< just training within, building that unique system process machine of how you guys do things when it comes to media buying and performance. And I find it interesting how you say performance, because there’s a big difference between a performance marketer and someone that’s not.

But just building that internally and having that internal IP, that means you can train people up internally and you can bring on juniors and they can grow with the company. So yeah, they can grow with your growth and spend. Because sometimes it could be difficult to find someone that’s spending five, six or even seven figures a month then to go to a company that’s building their PVC or performance programme from zero. It’s not exciting, right? So you can find juniors, train them up. That’s really smart.

Joanna: Yeah. It’s worked really well for us. And also, the more that you spend, the agency fees just become so high because it’s based off of oftentimes the percentage of spend. I find the incentives are wrong. They make more money when they spend more money instead of… Do you know what I mean? I don’t really get the alignment, to be honest.

Nathan: Yeah. That makes sense. So you guys are obviously really strong on PPC. You’ve got an in-house creative team, which is awesome. So I assume you have a studio. You guys are just creating every day, right? Creating content every day, yeah?

Joanna: Yeah. We shoot a lot of stuff in our office.

Nathan: Okay. And then what about the product side of the business? So it sounds like the Bras have really kicked off for you guys. Are they more your flagship product? Have you created any other flagship products that have go gangbusters? How do you work on product innovation? How do you know when to create another skew or a flagship product? Because yeah, you can have too many sometimes. That’s an interesting balance.

Joanna: Yeah. So we’re really lucky to be in a category like intimates where there’s just been so little innovation that… And people wear it every day. So there’s a whole plethora of products that we’ve been able to kind of make our way through and innovate. From a product standpoint, I’d say we try to hold ourselves to a high standard. So I don’t consider us a fashion company.

We really only bring something to market if we feel like we’re offering something new or different. And that then helps us where we’re not competing on price necessarily as much. And if people love the product, then they know that we’re the place to get it from. So we’ve expanded a lot as a brand. Now we sell swimwear, we sell launch wear, we sell amazing sports bras. We do a lot in the wireless bra category.

And then continuing with that first product that we need, the leak proof underwear product still does very, very well for us. So our sales are pretty evenly distributed amongst a few different categories now. But when do we launch new products? It all goes back to that Indiegogo theme of listening to customers. So we get a lot of customer feedback. We use our customers as our wear testers. If you see any of our packaging, which obviously no one can see, but we always say who the customer was that it was inspired by and a little bit about their story.

Nathan: That’s actually cool.

Joanna: Yeah. So we monitor all of the requests that come in and then basically work on a pipeline to kind of follow the lead of where people want to see us go next.

Nathan: How do you field all the customer insights, feedback? Do you have a place for it? Do you have a tool or is it just in a spreadsheet? Do you align your customer support team, your social team, or even your PPC team on the comments? What do you do there to organise that?

Joanna: Everywhere. It is everywhere. So we switched platforms recently for customer service. We have a great platform now that makes it quite easy where we can tag every single ticket that comes in and tag it based on what the feedback is, what the request is. So we can pull aggregate themes at the end.

Nathan: You mean ………….. That one?

Joanna: No, but it’s similar to that. We use Customer, it’s called. It can pick up on sentimented emails as well when someone writes in. So you can get a sense of if the customer’s happy or if they’re neutral or angry or dissatisfied. And it’s a pretty cool platform. And what we do is every month we have a customer centric meeting where we pull in everything that’s come in through email, through live chat and phone support.

We pull all of the notes from like store notes, all of the themes through social media monitoring, everything that comes in through NPS, everything that comes in through product reviews, and we holistically cross all of those different channels, identify what the themes are and where the opportunities are. It’s not perfect, but… Every brand is inundated with customer feedback and information. I will say that it’s very traditional or old school, but I still read every comment that goes on our Instagram page. And that helps too.

Nathan: Still?

Joanna: Yeah. Every post we put up I read through every single comment.

Nathan: Wow. Okay. So you would say, Joanna, you’re more of a product and marketing person?

Joanna: Yeah. I love product and brand marketing. Those are the two areas that I excel.

Nathan: Okay. So how have you complimented kind of you’re probably not that strong on operations or finance, you probably would have had to do it in the early days, but I assume now you have 80 people you’ve supplemented that?

Joanna: Yeah. It took me a really long time to find the right team, and I’m sure that’s a common theme as well. Especially when you’re getting started and everyday you’re building a company that’s bigger than the day before, if it’s not your industry, like this wasn’t my industry, you don’t really know what to look for. You don’t honestly know what great looks like or what the next move is.

So it took me a while to find the right people, but now we have an amazing team. You talk about transformational hires, and you don’t need a lot of them, but our COO, we relocated from LA just over a year ago, and he has totally transformed our organisation and our company and has really helped on the operation, scaling, supply chain, infrastructure, customer support, retail, all of the ops side of things.

Nathan: Yep. So he’s an integrator?

Joanna: Yes.

Nathan: Okay. Awesome. That sounds like a dream hire. So let’s talk about that. Because oftentimes when it comes to growing a company, I believe that it is the people that grow and scale a company. But oftentimes people are looking for the hacks. They would much rather read or watch a video on how this person’s spending a million dollars a month in Facebook ads profitably versus this is the number one way to find transformational hires.

What do you think is going to get more clicks? What do you think is going to get more views? What do you think they’re going to care about? But at the end of the day, you can build an exceptional team that can change the game of your business. We talked about that concept of transformational hires. I’m curious, how did you find that person in LA? Did you use a recruiter?

Joanna: Yeah. I used an executive headhunter who helped with the role. And I spent a lot of time sort of figuring out what it was that I needed and where things were missing. And it’s so hard in fast-growing companies to get this right, because you’ll often find that there are people who have amazing experience, but they’re not builders and they don’t want to build.

They are used to having a lot of support and a lot of systems. And so they can’t necessarily roll up their sleeves. I’ve made those hires a whole bunch of times along the way. And you blink and their team has quadrupled and the output is the exact same and you feel like you have no idea what’s going on. So I worked with an executive recruiter on this one. I feel like we found a diamond in the rough. We found our person.

Nathan: Yeah. That’s awesome. And what did you look for? Because recruiters obviously are incentivized to find anyone that you want to hire because that’s how they get compensated. What did you look for and what does success look like for any role within your organisation? Talk to me around the type of person, their traits, not just can they do the job? What are you looking for?

Joanna: Yeah. So for that particular search, I did what’s called a retained search. So actually the recruiter makes the money whether they find you someone or they doubt, which is a terrifying concept, like very, very scary. And I think it starts with finding the right recruiter. So finding someone who share similar values to you, who you really feel like understands the kind of person that’s going to work well with you and who has amazing references and a great track record.

So put a lot of emphasis on finding the recruiter. I think one of the best things that we’ve done at KNIX is being a mission-led company, that has enabled us to attract talent and people where we never would’ve been able to before. They are drawn to KNIX because they love what the company stands for and they’re willing to take a risk or make a move or do that because they want to be a part of it.

And tI think people really underestimate like how important that is to, to your point, have clear values, know what you stand for, have a reason to exist in the world that isn’t just about making money because it’ll help you attract far greater people. And it also will help you know really quickly if you align on what’s important, you know what I mean?

And then what do I look for? Kind people, first and foremost. So low ego, high empathy, optimistic, really lots of accountability and people who want to build, who when the to-do list is done, they’re like, what can I do now?

Nathan: They’re hungry.

Joanna: They’re hungry. Yeah. Exactly. And I think once you get a few of them right, they typically like the same sort of thing and you start to attract more and more. I was talking about this earlier with someone about this concept that like B’s hire, C’s… Do you ever talk about that on the…

Nathan: Yeah. Look, I have spoken to these concepts a few times, I think so. But A players want to work with other A players.

Joanna: Exactly. And so you hold yourself to kind of a higher standard. Honestly, if you have products that people like and you get the right people, you get on this flywheel, it’s so much more exciting than how to make a million dollars on Facebook. From my experience, because I like really, really hacked my way to our first 30 million in sales. We were a really small team and did not have the right infrastructure. That’s as far as you can go. But if you want to build like a hundred million dollar company, a billion dollar brand, you absolutely need the right people and you need a super strong vision and mission.

Nathan: Yeah. And you need a really high performance team and culture?

Joanna: Absolutely. Yeah.

Nathan: I agree. Okay. Well, look, Joanna, this was a great conversation. I think we’ve covered a lot of ground. We have to work towards wrapping up. But just a couple last questions. Was there anything that you would like to share with our audience of early stage startup founders, people that are either working on something, looking to start something or they’ve been running it for a while? It could be e-comm, it could be SAS, it could be service-based lead gen. Any parting words of wisdom that you’d like to share? And then lastly, where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?

Joanna: Parting words of wisdom. I think just that no one knows what they’re doing. You don’t know what you’re doing. It’s totally normal. Nobody really knows what they’re doing, especially in today’s landscape where the world is literally changing around us every single second. There is no playbook. There is no shortcut. Nobody knows what they’re doing. It’s just about everyday figuring it out a little bit more than you did the day before. So those are my parting words of wisdom. And then where can you find me? I’m mainly on Instagram and my handle joannaknix.

Nathan: Awesome. And knix.com?

Joanna: Knix.com is our website. And then our social media handles are all knixwear so K-N-I-X-W-E-A-R.

Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, thank you so much for your time. This was a fantastic conversation, and congratulations on all your success.

Joanna: Thank you so much. It was great chatting with you, Nathan.

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