Show Notes from Episode 6 of the Real Deal…What Matters Live
Discussion with the Co-Founders of Wear DULO, Marin Gerov and Julian Samarajiev
Patrick: Hi, everyone. This is Patrick Henry, the CEO of QuestFusion, with The Real Deal…What Matters Live. I’m here today with a couple of really cool entrepreneurs that are in Europe. Marin Gerov and Julian Samarajiev are the co-founders of wear DULO, which is an innovative apparel company. They make shirts for entrepreneurs who don’t want to go to the dry cleaner or iron. They’ve gone through quite a process, initially starting this as a side gig. They’re both software developers, people who are very near and dear to my heart. I love software developers. Tell me about DULO, where you got the idea and how you got started.
Marin: Thanks, Patrick, for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to the show. It’s our first live guest appearance on a show. We’re excited about it. We are based in Amsterdam in the good old Netherlands. DULO is a company that’s dedicated to making clothing for people who don’t want to deal with the hassle involved in looking great. We’re starting with the dress shirt. It’s something that both of us like to wear from time to time, even though we’re software developers.
In today’s world, as a software engineer, the standard is a hoodie or a simple t-shirt. From time to time, you need a dress shirt for an important meeting. When you rise up in the ranks, you need to be more presentable. There was something that was always stopping us. That was the hassle involved in getting ready in the morning. I don’t know how much time it takes people on average, but for me personally, it takes me abut 15 minutes to iron a dress shirt.
At one point, I started ironing only the collar and cuff. I put a sweater on to hide the horrible wrinkles on the rest. We wanted to solve our own problem. We decided to go with this idea because both of us are originally from Bulgaria, which is in the Eastern part of Europe. It’s a country that has traditions in the manufacturing of clothing and textiles production. We wanted to realize this idea. We did it in our own country.
We can give something back to the country and also leverage the network that we have, the language, and the ease of access to the market. We’ve been in business for the past six or seven months selling openly to customers. Before that, we spent one year in product development. We went through over 70 prototypes before we had customers and decided on a final model that we produced to sell online.
Patrick: Are you wearing DULO shirts right now?
Patrick: They look really good. You mentioned that you spent a year trying to figure things out. How did you rapidly go through figuring out what would sell, what wouldn’t sell, understanding the market and the manufacturing?
The First Year of a Startup
Julian: With the market, we knew there were a few companies trying it out in the US. They were growing, so we had approval of the concept. There was no one doing it in Europe. There were a few small companies starting up. We thought there was a market for it. We were solving our own problem, scratching our own itch. We didn’t know if we could make them in Bulgaria. We knew that there is an industry for it, but we didn’t know if they could make a dress shirt with performance fabrics.
It was a very interesting trip back home. We took a week off from our day jobs. We traveled around the country, speaking to people within that industry. We explained what we wanted. Most of them were confused. They didn’t really know what we were talking about, why we would do that and replace cotton with a new material. One of our last meetings was with the manufacturer that we ended up working with. From there, we shook hands and did three rounds of prototyping. We had about 20 shirts each and sent them out to all kinds of people. We did our own networking. We did three rounds of that, noting the feedback from everyone who had a shirt.
Patrick: You used a lot of lean startup concepts. Many product development concepts that you learned in the software world applied to this new business. How did you go about getting the feedback? Did you use surveys or focus groups?
Getting Feedback on Project Concepts
Marin: We split it into three rounds. The first round was to very close friends and family. We collected their feedback by approaching the people. We initially made about 25 shirts. These were close relatives and friends. First, we wanted to go to those people because we could quickly collect the data that we wanted in order to improve. Then we did a second batch with those improvements. Then we went into a slightly wider audience. For the wider audience, we started collecting it due to our approach of documenting our whole journey of building the company.
From day one, we decided we were going to use the strategy of documenting our process of building the company. In the end, it’s great to document it for ourselves to reflect on, whether things go really good or don’t go as planned. We can always reflect on it. What happened was that, while we were documenting this on our blog and vlog, people started to connect. Other entrepreneurs connected with this message and what we were doing. Through our Instagram channel, for example, people were reaching out. We were very actively participating.
We expanded to a second group, which is a little bit outside of our network. We had our first testers in the US that we sent shirts to. We had people all around Europe as well. This was a group of 20 people, but I would consider them more impartial because they were not relatives or friends who might just tell you it’s a good product because they want to be nice. After that, the final iteration was very small details for us to make some different options.
Patrick: In your first month of official revenue, you made 2,000 Euros, which I think is great. How have you been ramping revenue since then?
Growing Revenue at Wear DULO
Marin: For about six months, we’ve been making 5,000 or 6,000 Euros. We had a very successful first month. The month that we launched, in November, is still our highest month. Then came December with the Christmas holidays. Then came January. Things started to get a bit low. We wondered, “What are we doing wrong? What’s happening here?” We started digging and talking to other people. We figured out that there’s something that’s also very common in the software world.
When you create a product, you have people who are initially excited about it. They have the context. In our case, those were people who were following our journey. They bought immediately. It’s a dress shirt. It’s not a product that you buy every month. After the first month that was really high and exciting, then we faced the reality of marketing and spreading the word. Since then, we’ve been trying many different strategies. We’re just starting to see the fruits of our labor. It takes a lot of time and effort to position a product that’s still unknown, that’s in a slightly higher category, from different materials. We now see things that we’ve been doing over the past several months that are adding up.
Julian: For example, our last month was our strongest month. We saw the rise at launch. Then it dipped. Now we’ve been seeing slow growth. We see that translating to our number of viewers on YouTube, listeners to the podcast and readers on the blog and people on Instagram. I think it’s a very slow and organic process. We’re bootstrapping the whole thing. We don’t have any cash to throw at marketing. We aren’t doing any marketing at the moment because we’re waiting for our new photo session images to come in. It’s been slow growth.
Patrick: That makes sense. It’s not uncommon to get that initial boost in revenue with some pent-up demand. The apparel business also has a tendency to be very seasonal. I’m not sure if you know Brian Smith, but he’s the founder of UGG boots in Australia. He’s a friend of mine. His story is amazing. Every year was a grind, just getting the boots built. It was a very seasonal business. He tried to identify how to get beyond that surfing niche. There were things he learned talking to his retail customers, who eventually talked to the end customers.
You get more of that direct feedback in an online business. Seasonal businesses are interesting. I’ve been in some of those, too. When you’re in consumer electronics products, it’s extremely seasonal. You have strict cut-offs. When we were selling to Panasonic and Sony, if you don’t get your chips into their design by October or November, you miss a whole year. There are strict landing zones around those things.
Something you mentioned that I like is this whole “behind the scenes” of your entrepreneurial journey. I like when entrepreneurs do that. I think you build this affinity group around yourselves when you have the vulnerability to do that. How has that worked out as far as generating customer demand with your podcast and other things that you’ve done?
Taking People on the Journey of Wear DULO
Julian: At launch, the biggest portion of our revenue came from organic people who hopped on the journey before we launched. It was people who were following along. They knew about us from us documenting the whole journey. We’d been documenting for about a year previous to the launch. There was a lot of content. We showed the first samples, which were yellow. Then we showed the second samples, which were white. From then on, we had white fabric. We were showing white shirts for months on end. They were excited to see the colors during the launch. It was very beneficial at launch and it continues to be. It gives us a constant stream of organic and authentic content.
Marin: There is an interesting distinction here. We talk about this with each other all the time. A lot of the things that we’re doing right now, people shouldn’t care. We tell them what we did this week and how we’re thinking about marketing. Currently, we’re not anyone yet. We haven’t reached that position where people will go back and say, “They had this genius marketing idea. That’s how they did it.” We’re still fighting to create a position in the market. The content has a lot of value if you are in the trenches as well. You can probably relate a lot. When I talk to other entrepreneurs, they really like that part. For the average viewer of the vlog or YouTube, it’s not going to be something interesting at this point in time.
Patrick: You mentioned that, from a business model standpoint, you’re running the company more as a media company as opposed to an apparel company. Tell me about that and the thought process behind that. What does that mean?
Wear DULO: A Unique Business Model
Marin: With this product, companies like Hugo Boss or H&M could come up with the same kind of product tomorrow. They can make it cheaper, faster, and scale it. What will differentiate everyone is the brand. In today’s world with all of these tools, I personally have to see myself as a brand. You have to see yourself as a brand. At the same time, it’s a media company brand. We have all of these tools and networks. Everything is within our devices. We can broadcast. We can livestream. At the end of the day, this is much closer to what a television station used to do and what an apparel business will do. Our content is not really about style or how to get the best look for the season. It’s about how you build a company, find your first customers, and answering questions around those topics.
Patrick: Do you have a build-to-order type of mechanism? Do you have to make so many shirts with a minimum order quantity?
Julian: The sampling period and the first batch, which was about 700 shirts, we financed from savings. We have our inventory upstairs, which is the living room and our warehouse. Once we sell those, from the profits, we can start ordering the next batch. Even if we don’t sell all of them, we can order a smaller batch. We can take a crowdfunding approach at some point. We currently have pre-paid inventory. We need to sell it. From those funds, we’ll generate the next batch.
Marin: Every order that comes in, we take a shirt ourselves. We find the right size. We write a handwritten note and put it in a nice box. We ship it ourselves. It’s all just the two of us doing the whole thing.
Julian: The nice thing about having a full-time job as we do this is that, all the revenue that comes into the company, we can reinvest back into the company. Our full-time salary is paying all the bills. That’s how we’re approaching it.
Patrick: I want each of you to answer this question. What has been your single biggest lesson learned going through this process over the last year and a half?
Lessons Learned from Wear DULO
Marin: For me, the biggest lesson is that it takes much more time than I would expect from the beginning. I’m still learning to practice patience. The most important lesson for me is that things take much longer than you expected. After that, trust the process. Show up every day for work. Do the boring things. About 5% of the things that you do will be exciting. That will lead to a delighted customer and a testimonial that will fire you up for that 95% of boring things that you have to do during the day.
Julian: I agree with that 100%. It’s also important to find your niche. We started off with the idea of making a product. Then we wanted to speak to people who wear shirts. Then we said we wanted to speak to active people who wear a shirt. Then that was even too broad. You have to really narrow it down. Be really specific. Stand behind the message. Stand behind the mission. That’s how you get your true people.
Patrick: Those are definitely things that I coach in my practice; patience, perseverance and focus. The riches are in the niches. Especially as a young company, you have to focus on that micro economy. Hopefully you have a broader market that you can penetrate over time. You have to establish that beachhead. If you try to go too broad too soon as a young company, it doesn’t work. It’s been great to have you on the show. We’ll continue to follow your journey. How can people get a hold of you or buy the shirts?
Marin: The easiest place is our website, WearDULO.com. We’re shipping internationally. We have free standard delivery to everywhere in the world. We are on social as well. Our handle everywhere is “Wear DULO.”
Patrick: Thanks. This has been fun. Good luck with the entrepreneurial journey.
Marin: Thanks, Patrick.
Julian: Thanks. All the best.