Building Brass: A Boston Startup Story

Post 1 - intro and history - photo

Photo Credit: Hogger & Co. Photographer

I want to start by sharing a dream I have. One day I’d like to stand next to my business partner and ring the bell on the New York Stock Exchange.  I know that sounds wildly ambitious and borderline crazy. But a girl’s gotta have goals and it should be ok to say them out loud.

Now let’s back up a little. My name is Katie Doyle and I’m the co-founder of Brass.  I’m a new contributor to the Women’s iLab, and I’m on a journey.  I’m building a business from the ground up with my co-founder, Jay Adams. We launched our ecommerce company about a year ago. We are now looking for investors to help take our business to the next level.  We’ve learned a lot over the past year, and expect to learn even more while fundraising. So, we’re documenting it all here for you, Women’s iLab followers.  Twice a month we’ll post an update.  We’ll provide progress reports and commentary on what it’s like for two female co-founders to fundraise in Boston.  In a world where only 4% of venture backed businesses are run by women, we have a big job ahead of us.

HOW WE GOT HERE

That’s what’s to come.  For now, in the spirit of getting to know each other, we’ll share a bit about how we got here.  We started our business in March of 2014.  We had a hypothesis that women were craving high quality clothing at an affordable price. We believed there was a business opportunity to make beautiful, designer quality garments and sell directly to consumers online to cut out excessive retail markup.  But we needed to put this idea to the test.

It’s important to start with a test because it will validate your idea.  Ideas come from your gut. It’s necessary to learn if your idea is just something you think is important, or if there’s a real market for your product.  We follow the Lean Startup, a great resource for anyone who’s considering starting a business. From the Lean Startup we learned about the MVP (minimal viable product) approach.  The concept helped us test our hypothesis, learn from the results, and adjust to make products that customers keep coming back for.

The MVP approach helped us lay the foundation for making sound business decisions.  It has instilled the following three practices in our business that we attribute much of our growth to:

USE “BUILD – MEASURE – LEARN” FOR EVERY PRODUCT

The MVP method encourages the Build – Measure – Learn approach to making a product.  In our case, we did Measure Learn Build.  Although the order is different, the concept is the same: learn from the information you have and make decisions based on results.

Here’s how we did it:

Measure: If possible, we highly recommend researching your market before you build a prototype.  You’ll learn quickly that building anything is expensive, so the more you know before you start, the better.  In our case, we sent out a survey to 150 women in our respective networks.  We asked all sorts of questions about their style and shopping habits.

Learn: The takeaways from our survey helped us determine the silhouettes to design, colors women liked and the prices they were willing to pay for garments.  With this information, we designed our first line.

Build:  We started with just 5 dress styles.  We placed the smallest order possible with the factory.  People asked why we started we such a small collection when many clothing brands have hundreds of styles.  But, we stuck with the MVP approach to be able to observe sales and hear customer feedback without massive investment in product development.

Do it all again – We do this process over and over again for every dress we design.  Every idea we have is validated with a survey.  And we continue to work with our factory to produce small runs so we can make adjustments.  When we put the product in the market, it’s a new opportunity to measure and hear new customer feedback.

TEST EVERYTHING

Build – Measure – Learn taught us to examine everything we do.  There is so much value in starting with a test, seeing how it goes and proceeding from there.  It helps us be intelligent, and make decisions that are less based on gut or emotion and more on facts.  For example, this summer we had budget to run an online marketing campaign.  We had a feeling that Facebook and Pinterest ads would be good performers for us, but weren’t sure which would be better.  So, we took 2 weeks to test both options.  We applied equal amounts of budget to each platform, and when the test was over we realized that Facebook performs better for us than Pinterset.  After running the test, we confidently shifted our budget towards Facebook.  And we’ve continued tweaking and testing ad performance from there.

MOVE ON QUICKLY

We learned not to be emotional or attached to ideas.  It’s not easy to give up on an idea that you love.  We experienced this with the Brass Bundle.  The idea was to let women pick 3 dresses to try at home, and keep or send back what they didn’t want.  Knowing it was something we needed to test, we put the idea up on Instagram and gave ten of our followers the chance to try. The process proved to be unprofitable and logistically challenging.  While it was difficult for us to give up on an idea that we loved, our test allowed us to pivot in a new direction.

WHAT’S TO COME

We hope this series serves as an opportunity to share what we are learning about fundraising. And in particular, from a female-founder point-of-view. We’ll do our best to shed light on a process that many of you are thinking about doing or are already doing.  We plan on discussing the following topics:

  • How we determined how much money to raise, and why we’re seeking angels.

  • How we went about setting up meetings and networking.

  • The most common questions we’re asked while pitching.

  • The most common feedback we received from potential investors.

We’re very excited to share our stories, and look forward to hearing your feedback and comments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: KATIE DOYLE

Katie Doyle HeadshotI’m a co-founder of Brass.  Brass is a new online women’s clothing brand. We’re cutting out the middle(wo)man to create high quality clothing at an affordable price.  We’ve learned so much in the year we’ve been in business; I’d love to share more about what it means to run a growing startup in Boston.

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