In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Danh Tran, founder, and Bob Stevens, co-founder of Buttercloth, a men’s apparel company providing the comfort of t-shirts with the style of dress shirts. Essentially, Buttercloth uses a special cotton fabric blend to provide stretchability and wrinkle resistance for a wide variety of chic button-ups, polos and sweaters. Listen in to learn why and how Danh started the company as well as what’s to come for Buttercloth in the future.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

    • The Buttercloth story, including Danh’s background and where the unique selling proposition came from
    • The initial process of deciding and then designing the menswear features
    • How they got NBA legend, Metta World Peace, to be an investor and brand ambassador
    • How the fashion brand has evolved into what it is now
    • Their experience on the popular entrepreneurial show, Shark Tank

Links

Sponsors

Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by The Gadget Flow, a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. The Gadget Flow is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Click here to learn more and list your product – use coupon code ATOKK16 for 20% off!

Transcript

View this episode's transcript
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, president of Enventys Partners, the top full-service, turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over $100 million for our clients since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding.
Roy Morejon:
Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by Gadget Flow. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now, let’s get on with the show.
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today, I am talking with Buttercloth’s, founder Danh Tran and co-founder Bob Stevens. Danh and Bob, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart
Bob Stevens:
And thank you for having us, Roy.
Danh Tran:
Yeah, thank you for having us.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. I think everybody fell in love with you, Danh. On season 10 of Shark Tank. We were introduced to I think your brand for the first time for the majority of the world. I’d love to hear about the Buttercloth story and where it all began from.
Danh Tran:
Yeah, I was in fashion industry for 20 years and it’s just, I always hated to wear a dress shirt, traditional dress shirt. It’s just stiff and scratchy and very uncomfortable. When I go to work I just wear a tee-shirt and then anytime I have an important meeting I just have to put on a dress shirt and, then after the meeting I have to take it off and put back a tee-shirt on to be comfortable at office and then, and I’m thinking to myself I’m a designer for 20 years, I need to be the one have to solve this problem then that how, Buttercloth started, I just fly over to China, develop the unique fabric, which is, it feels like you wearing your favorite tee-shirt but still look professional, like a traditional dress shirt. That’s Buttercloth how it started.
Roy Morejon:
When you were creating Buttercloth, what was that initial process like? Many of the founders and startups that listened to the podcast always appreciate, the story in terms of how you go about the process and designing the features that went into the initial designs and then how the brand has evolved now into what you have currently.
Bob Stevens:
I think one of the things about Danh, he got his start in fashion actually designing doll clothes for Barbie and Mattel. And he used to tell me, I’ve known Danh for 20 years. I’ve seen him grow up as a designer, but he used to tell me that, when you’re designing a dress for Barbie and it’s so small, it really teaches you about the fabric and the construction of fabric to how to make it lay and all of the things that you really need to know. Because a designer can design anything, but can it really be made? Can it be made like the design that he or she wants. That’s the tough part. Danh came up, he was designing clothes from the time he was 10 years old.
Bob Stevens:
He started making his own clothes because he grew up, his mom and dad owned a tailor shop. When he started Buttercloth, he already had this great foundation of knowing all about, not just how to draw on design, but how to construct things and fabrics. When he went to China, he worked with all of these fabric mills to try to come up with a specific type of cotton that would give stretch. Most of the performance fabrics that you see out there, are polyester, that’s the only way they can get that stretch. But he figured out a way, he’s kind of an inventor and he has a very inventive mind to come up with something that was made out of 100% cotton that would have the same kind of stretch that people put in these performance polyesters. And the result is just awesome.
Bob Stevens:
I mean it’s truly a breakthrough in fabric design. That’s where he started is with the fabric. If you don’t have a unique hook, to differentiate yourself, you’re going to have a real tall challenge starting any new business. You got to come up with something that is a unique, solves a problem. You don’t want to solve a problem that doesn’t exist but solve a problem that exists and have a good hook.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. Bob, that’s a great point in terms of any startup that’s out there in terms of what’s that unique value proposition or MVP that you can get out there to get people into it. We find fashion can be a difficult one, but obviously your name describes exactly what the product will be or how will feel or perform. I’m interested how you were able to get your first investor, the NBA legend, metal world peace who also appeared with you guys on Shark Tank. How did that relationship form and evolve?
Danh Tran:
Yeah, when I started this business, I’m really good with inventing the fabric design stuff, but I’m okay with, I’m not very good with business side marketing. I looked for a marketing partner, which I found and then we have a connection and then they become our partner, which is MuteSix, which is our partner in digital marketing and one day he come into the office and I showed them my product, which is a product sample.
Danh Tran:
And then what happened is Metta World Peace they walked in with, and walk in to the office and see the shirt, I give to them. And then Metta World Peace say “what is that shirt?” And then my partner Mute Six tell Metta World Peace, “why don’t you try it on?”. As soon as he put it on, he liked, and then he just his jaw dropped. And then he say, “who the designer I want to meet this designer and this is the most comfortable shirt I ever worn.” He say he can wear, he can play basketball in it. And it’s so comfortable and so stretchy and that’s how I met Metta World Peace and how we attract Metta World Peace.
Bob Stevens:
Yeah. It was really through the introduction, through the Mute Six CEO is an actual friend of Metta’s but once Metta said “I want to meet the designer.” Of course Danh was, “he wants to meet me?”, but we got together, put the two of them together and that same day they decided to make a deal and have Metta be a part of the company. He was really instrumental in helping us get it off the ground.
Roy Morejon:
That’s really inspiring. Let’s jump into the tank if you will. Tell me how, did Shark Tank end up finding you as a product that they wanted to feature on the show?
Bob Stevens:
Well, Danh is always, I asked him years ago, I said, “would you rather be rich or you are the rather be famous?” He said, “I’d rather be famous.” He’s always had that desire. Money doesn’t really drive him that much, but, he wants to make an impact in the world and he’s all, we’ve both been fans of Shark Tank since season one. I mean we always watch it, very avid listeners. After we got the company launched, it was shortly after, of course Danh started mentioning, “Gee, we should try to get on Shark Tank.” even before the company was launched. But once we, I knew that it was going to be a tall challenge. I mean, let’s face it, I think they do something like 20,000 auditions and choose 120 people each year.
Bob Stevens:
There’s just the odds of getting on are, are pretty tough. But I knew we had a good story to tell and once Metta came on board, that’s when we looked at each other and said, “now’s the time. I think if Metta will go with us, I think we’ve got a good shot.” We just went to the audition, Metta went with us, we got in line just like everybody else.
Danh Tran:
Got up early in the morning.
Bob Stevens:
Yeah, I was there at 4:00 in the morning to be in line. I think we were number 12 or something in the line of 5,000 people or something. But yeah, I think in truth Metta did help catch some attention because people of course know him.
Danh Tran:
I think when they look at us, we have great products unlike anything else and I have a good background. And then also Metta World Peace helped a lot.
Bob Stevens:
Let’s face it. It takes all of the pieces of the puzzle. You could have the best product in the world, but if you don’t have the marketing, it’s not going to make it.
Danh Tran:
Yeah.
Bob Stevens:
I think we had all of the little pieces. We had a great product, a great story. We had a great partner in Metta, we had a business background. Our plans looked good. We had all of the things were lined up. I think we had everything working for us when we walked into the audition and, and within a couple of weeks of the audition they were asking us to do a video and then another couple of weeks after that were asking us to start. They wanted us on the show.
Roy Morejon:
That’s really impressive. In terms of preparation for the big screen, if you will, what, did you guys do anything differently? I know all the sharks love to know the numbers of the business and everything like that. Was there anything preparation wise that we didn’t see on camera that you’d want to help give some nuggets of inspiration to our listeners on?
Bob Stevens:
Sure, we definitely prepared. Of course the producers, do work with you and help you. But, we did a lot of rehearsing and we did a lot of mock presentations with other business people. We reached out to all of our friends. We even reached out to the small business administration, which is a wonderful group who put together a group of investors and entrepreneurs, pretend to be Sharks. And we went through that twice where they would give, ask us the tough questions. And of course we did have a great business plan already, but you never know what you’re going to be asked. And they asked the tough questions and we learned from that. By the time we got to the Tank, we had done it a couple of times.
Roy Morejon:
Oh, that’s great insight. What, if anything, would you do differently if you were starting not only the Shark Tank over again, which you had great success, obviously landing Robert and that seems like that partnership’s been going extremely well based on our initial discussions. But what, if anything, would you change in terms of starting butter, Buttercloth over again?
Bob Stevens:
Danh, anything you would change?
Danh Tran:
Not on top of my head, but, I think the way it has Buttercloth goes is very surprising for us.
Bob Stevens:
Honestly it’s almost been magical. And Roy, I can’t say that I would change anything. I think, I’ve been in business many years and, there’s a lot of things that I have changed with Buttercloth learning from the past. But I think this is where all of that experience has kind of come together for both Danh and me. I wouldn’t change anything. It’s, been a great ride, a lot of fun. And we’ve got a lot of fun road ahead of us too.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. I’d be interested to hear how the fourth quarter for sales went for you guys and anything that you guys were testing over at Q for all of our eCommerce stores and Shopify, Amazon stores out there that worked well for you guys?
Bob Stevens:
Well, we did introduce a couple of new product categories at Q4 which helped. We introduced to Buttercloth, polos and Butter cloth’s, sweaters, which helped, but, that was still a small percentage Danh, right, of the overall sales.
Bob Stevens:
I would say the main thing we did was really plan our marketing to be able to scale that marketing up and take advantage of the acquisition costs during the fourth quarter. Obviously, when you’re scaling a business, any commerce, it’s all about the cost of acquiring that customer. And there are certain times of the year that you know that cost is going to be less and you’ve got to be poised for it and ready to strike. We worked with Robert and his team. We made some very nice testimonial videos for example, that we could use in social and we were prepared the minute that those CPAs or cost per acquisition started to come down. We scaled quickly. We went from, we probably spent in November and December, a hundred times what we spent in September for example, in marketing dollars because we could afford to spend it during the time that those acquisition costs are lower.
Roy Morejon:
Really nice. I’d love to know where you guys are headed next.
Bob Stevens:
Well, we had a great 2018, our first year this year in 2019 or last year in 2019 we tripled that and this year we’re on track to double 2019 we’ve got a lot of new categories coming out in 2020, Danh?
Danh Tran:
Well yeah, we add more categories, we can double the sale this year and more importantly it’s a mission. Try to, any travel goal year we come out, we have to be focused on the comfort. It doesn’t matter what, for example, jackets, sweaters, polos, or pants or anything, hoodies, it’s our focus is going to be use Buttercloth fabric. It has to be 100% in cotton and in comfort. That’s our key for our new categories.
Bob Stevens:
Well, and I think the point definitely should be made, that’s what really sets us apart and you’ve got to differentiate yourself no matter what business you’re in.
Bob Stevens:
What sets us apart is that fabric primarily, it’s made of that special, long fiber cotton. It’s constructed in a way that makes it so extraordinarily soft. It has the six way stretch and readability that other brands just can’t do in cotton. But, I always say that our customers come to Buttercloth for that comfort, but they stay for the style, it takes both. There’s plenty of you can wear a comfortable blanket, but you don’t, you’re not going to look very good in it. That’s where Danh’s experience and design comes in. When people get a Buttercloth shirt, their first one, I think they’re pleasantly surprised. We deliver. That’s where we deliver more than we promise. When they open that first shirt, most people’s reaction is, wow, this is nicer than I thought it would be and that’s because of the design details that go into it. Danh calls it the hidden details and that’s what brings them back. That’s what gives us such a great returning customer rate and builds the business.
Roy Morejon:
Beautiful. Well, gentlemen, this is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You guys good to go?
Bob Stevens:
I’m good to go.
Roy Morejon:
All right. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Bob Stevens:
Being able to control your own time and being able to make an impact in the world.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. If you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history who would it be?
Danh Tran:
Jack Ma.
Roy Morejon:
Jack Ma. Good one. What would be your first question for Jack?
Danh Tran:
How he do it? Right?
Roy Morejon:
Any business book or life book you would recommend to our audience?
Bob Stevens:
Yes. There’s a book that inspired Danh to start this business. What was the name of that book?
Danh Tran:
It’s called “Jump” by Steve Harvey. That is the book that make everything.
Bob Stevens:
When Danh was thinking about starting, the company, he would call me and he’d say “I want to do it, but I’m scared this and that.” And we’d have these conversations over months of time. And then one day I’m watching on the TV and I see this new book by Steve Harvey and I said, Oh my God, that is the book for Danh. I get the book, I send it to him, the next day after reading, he read the book in what? One day or two days?
Danh Tran:
Two days.
Bob Stevens:
Two days, then following day he walked into his boss’s office and gave notice.
Roy Morejon:
There you go. Action. I love it. All right. Last question in the launch round, what does the future of fashion look like?
Danh Tran:
The future of fashion is going to be about comfort. The whole world is going to be comfort even not on clothing, its even shoes or cars or everything. The world will buy everything in comfort, nowadays.
Bob Stevens:
Yeah. I agree.
Danh Tran:
That’s what the main goal is to do.
Bob Stevens:
I agree.
Roy Morejon:
Excellent.
Danh Tran:
Technology nowadays everything is convenient and then in fashion it have to be comfort.
Roy Morejon:
Comfort and convenience. I think the world can live with that, right?
Danh Tran:
Yeah.
Bob Stevens:
That’s right.
Danh Tran:
That’s what everyone look for.
Roy Morejon:
Well, Danh and Bob, this gets us to the end. This is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch. Tell people what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should check you out.
Bob Stevens:
Okay, well I would say definitely, if you’re looking for both comfort and style, you can find your look at Buttercloth.com
Roy Morejon:
Beautiful. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com, for the notes, the transcript, links to Buttercloth and everything else we talked about today and of course thank you to our podcast sponsor, the Gadget Flow. Danh, Bob, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Bob Stevens:
Okay, Roy, thank you for having us. We appreciate it. You have a great day.
Roy Morejon:
Cheers.
Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning into another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit Art of the Kickstart.com and tell us all about it. There, you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it, and of course, if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at ArtoftheKickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands on, crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on Enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.