Learn from Fast Growing 7-8 Figure Online Retailers and eCommerce Experts

EPISODE 357 70 mins

How ManMade is Rapidly Accelerating Awareness and Growth with their Unique Brand Story

About the guests

Anthony Ciavirella

Kunle Campbell

Anthony Ciavirella - co-founder of ManMade, a local Canadian startup from Montreal that provides everyday men with the essentials they need, without the BS they don't. They plan on disrupting the men's essentials space and being a Canadian brand that supports a man's wellness by strengthening his foundation. Their purpose as a business: To support a man's wellness by strengthening his foundation.

On today’s episode, Kunle is joined by Anthony Ciavirella, who is one of four Founders at Manmade, a breakout, and what seems to be a culture-defining Canadian men’s essential brand.

Anthony alongside his co-founders, Roberto Rebelo, Robert M, and Phil Santagata are best friends that left their careers in Finance to focus on providing men with the quality basics they need without the BS.

This four founder team have ideated and built a men’s essential brand that has created quite a buzz in their country, Canada. Anthony explains to Kunle how they made it to the front page of the Montreal Gazette newspaper and then how their local support scaled up to newspapers across Canada. They sold out during the Holidays and 2021 and show no signs of slowing.

Anthony’s mission is to revolutionise the undergarment industry with the introduction of their ergonomically designed boxer briefs which will be followed by a portfolio of mens’ essential products. Their attention and acquisition engine shows no signs of abating as they are due to feature on Canada’s Dragon’s Den episode this September.

Kunle quizzed Anthony about building supply chain resilience as a fast growth company and also about finance and operations.

Here is a summary of some of the most important points made:

  • Before even thinking about expanding beyond the borders of your city, master your local market first and build around that.
  • A brand’s story is the core of a brand’s growth. Resonating with your audience goes beyond the realms of just selling your product.
  • By taking the time to know your customers, you’ll be able to understand them and search for more customers like them.
    Involve customers when you’re coming up with future products to know what your customers are looking for.

Covered Topics:

On today’s interview, Kunle and Anthony discuss:

  • The Birth of Manmade
  • Expanding Manmade
  • Being a Four Founder Brand
  • Using Press to Launch a Brand
  • Resonating with the Audience
  • Entering the Belly of the Beast
  • Manmade’s Supply Chain
  • Focusing on Men’s Wellness
  • Funding Manmade
  • Staying Omnipresent in all Forms of Media
  • Seamless SMS Reorder Process
  • Manmade’s Email Flow
  • Tips to Survive a Subpar Retail Index
  • Exploring Manmade


  • 07:20 – The Birth of Manmade:
    • The Founders
    • Scratching the entrepreneurial itch
    • Coming up with the product
  • 13:07 – Expanding Manmade:
    • Mastering the local market
    • Sharing the story of the brand
    • Advantages of using press to expand the market
  • 18:37 – Being a Four Founder Brand:
    • A creating a dynamic team with complementing traits
  • 20:41 -Using Press to Launch a Brand:
    • Key principles in launching a brand
    • Using radio, print and TV appearance to grow brand awareness
    • Knowing your customers and asking for input
    • The proper way of reaching out to press
  • 27:47 – Resonating with the Audience:
    • Not using “roadblocks” as a excuse to not start a venture
    • “They’re doing it and it’s possible.”
  • 31:15 – Entering the Belly of the Beast:
    • How they entered the Dragon’s Den
  • 38:59 – Manmade’s Supply Chain:
    • Functionality and quality not fast fashion
    • Managing 3 different manufacturers
  • 46:23 – Focusing on Men’s Wellness:
    • Manmade being the foundation of men’s essential needs
    • Using quality fabrics and ingredients
    • Involving customers for future product ideas
  • 47:49 – Funding Manmade:
    • Bootstrapping the company
  • 50:25 – Staying Omnipresent in all Forms of Media:
    • Producing meaningful content by showing behind the scenes
    • Manmade being customer-centric
    • What is the Manmade Concierge Tech Service
  • 56:12 – Seamless SMS Reorder Process:
    • “We were able to add about 15% on our top line month-over-month just by the text message platform, which allowed us to increase our return rates.”
    • Founders staying hands-on in their business
  • 01:00:58 – Manmade’s Email Flow:
    • Sending a feedback email after customer purchases a product
    • How to keep email flowing consistently with quality content
  • 01:03:32 – Tips to Survive a Subpar Retail Index:
    • Coming up with a master plan
    • Staying organized
    • Catch your momentum and don’t slow down
  • 01:08:05 – Exploring Manmade


  • When looking for different manufactures for different SKUs make sure that a manufacturer is WRAP certified before considering them as a partner.
  • By founders staying hands on, interaction between customers becomes more personable especially when founders themselves are answering the customer questions.
  • Coming up with a plan, staying organized, catching momentum and not slowing down will keep you afloat a not-so-good retail index.

Links & Resources:

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In this episode, you’re going to learn from a founder of a men’s essential brand that is doing terrifically well. We talk about the press, social, leadership, and the supply chain. It’s a terrific episode you do not want to miss so do stay tuned. 

Welcome to the 2x eCommerce podcast. The 2x eCommerce podcast is a digital commerce podcast dedicated to delivering insights to retail and eCommerce teams. Each week on this podcast, I interview a commerce expert, a founder of a digital native consumer brand, or a representative of a best-in-class eCommerce SaaS product. I give them a tight remit to help you with growth metrics, such as your conversions, your average order value, your repeat customers, your audience size, and ultimately your gross merchant value or sales. We are here to help you sell more sustainably. 

The episode you’re about to read about, which will come in fairly quickly, is an interview I had with 1 of 4 of the founder team called Manmade. Manmade is a Canadian-based men’s essential consumer brand. They’ve been around since 2022. They’re on a run rate of about $2.5 million. Anthony gives me the building blocks for their success. One is story. Two is innovation. Three is press and four is you have to listen to all the others. There are about five key reasons. They’re doing so well now. I go through everything in this episode. 

You’re going to hear about the supply chain, we’re going to talk about products, we’re going to talk about how they’re financing their deals and their operations. We’re going to talk about their team, leadership, ideation, and how to get press. We’re going to talk about how to work on social media and how to be more purposeful with your brand. 

These guys are extremely passionate about what they do. They’re about to get on Dragon’s Den. We’re talking about how to get on Dragon’s Den if you’re in Canada or anywhere in the world. We go through all of the elements that are going to potentially make this brand an international brand. They have a plan for international expansion. I’m super proud of their team. I’m thankful that I got the opportunity to speak with Anthony. Without further ado, this is Anthony Ciavirella from Manmade. Enjoy the episode. 

Anthony, welcome to the 2x eCommerce podcast.

Thank you for having me.

I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for you to tell us a story of Manmade. You’re a quatro. Do you want to give us your back story? Who are your founders? I’d like to go even before the company. What did you all do before you ideated Manmade?

We were all in finance. We’re all finance guys. You have who Roberto was a CPA. Robert was a wholesaler of mutual funds at a bank. I was in retail banking and I was in private banking. Phil was in real estate and in banking. Four finance guys. We’ve been best friends for a long time. We have all known each other for a long time. We trusted each other.

As boys do, we share personal things when a couple of brewskis go down. We all had a little pulse on each other’s lives. We were able to understand that at the age of 28 to 32 in that spectrum, we were ready to say, “Do we want to keep growing in our current roles at work or start a business once and for all? Do we scratch that itch as an entrepreneur to see and give it our best shot to see if we’re able to do that or if we’re able to make things happen as a quatro?”

When did you get together? Were your childhood friends? Did you meet each other in the latter parts of your lives at the time? Why boxers? From then on, you’ve expanded your portfolio, and your SKU counter to other products, but why boxers? What was the friendship like?

We’ve all been friends for a long time. However, we’ve all met each other at different times in each of our lives. Myself and Robert have known each other since we were 5 or 6. We went to elementary school and high school together. We’ve been friends forever. We’re best men at each other’s weddings. I was the best man at his wedding and we’ve been best friends for a long time. For Phil, it was the same thing when we were 15 and 16 years old. For Roberto, I met him at university.

We’ve been friends for a long time and for us, when we were discussing how our life was going, as a group, we all knew that we all had that itch that we wanted to scratch as entrepreneurs. We asked our wives for permission to go up north, rent a cabin, come up with a business plan, put our brains together and see what we could come up with as a quatro. That’s exactly what we did.

We ended up renting a local cabin an hour and a half here from Montreal at Mont-Tremblant and we decided to stay for three full days. We packed the laptops, and the whiteboards, and did as much research and brainstorming as we could. I remember it being a June humid day. The topic of underwear came up over and over again and we all basically understood that we all hated the current underwear that we were wearing. Some of us found it to be annoying around the band. Some of us didn’t like the bunching up, the heated feeling, and some of us even went commando.

From those ideas that we brainstormed we ended up breaking it down to the last five and we decided to lean into the terrible underwear game. We did our research about it and we started to say to ourselves, “What kind of underwear is out there? Why is it that we are in our late 20s and early 30s and we still all don’t like our underwear?” We ordered every underwear you can think of. We started to try on different types of underwear and different types of designs and we came across a material called Modal fabric and that’s when the light switch came on t and the light bulb came out.

We all started being like, “This is amazing.” We all thought the same thing, how lightweight, how comfortable and how breathable the material was. We leaned down and we saw a lot of brands. It was an expensive fabric and it was expensive. It wasn’t cheap to buy this type of material through other brands and we wanted to understand why. After doing much research and dealing with the different manufacturers, we wanted to own the functionality of the actual boxer brief.

We wanted to own it to be simple, functional, and comfortable. It’s all the things that are not fast fashion and everything that is about functionality. We leaned into that and we had 34 different iterations of the boxer brief and then the last one when we put it on and we wore it for about three days. You wash it every day. We said, “This is it,” and we decided to start with a minimum order of 10,000 units. That’s how we started.

It’s very detailed. Bless your wives for giving permission to go out to brainstorm. You birthed a great brand out there. You’re predominantly based in Canada. You’re a Canadian brand right at the minute.

Correct. We’re a Canadian brand from Montreal.

I love what you said prior to hitting record which was more around the fact that you’re mastering your local market for the time being and then you have a clear plan to aggressively expand to North America and to probably all geos, right?

That is correct. For us, it was important that we were relatable to our customers and that we had a close ear to the ground. In order to do that, we didn’t want to have a scope that was so grand that we weren’t able to understand our customers. We said, “We have to own our city first.” That’s exactly what we did. We sold all 10,000 units locally here in Montreal, which is a huge win for us. During that time, we definitely tested in between different platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn.

We built our brands and we were telling our story about what we’re going through, why we’re building this brand, and what product is it. It grew locally with sportscasters. We provided care packages to key influential people in the city that had to love the product and understand the brand. They spoke internally rather than selling a product to everyone else.

I swear you not, there were guys talking on the radio about our product that we didn’t pay $1. They were just talking from the heart and they wanted to support the story of four best friends leaving comfy well-paying jobs to help men feel comfortable and feel that their underwear is functional, high quality and essential without the BS. It’s something that we like to say.

They're doing it and it's possible. Click to Tweet

There are a lot of gimmicks, colors, patterns, and everything you don’t care about. You care about it in the short term but then when you have them on a hot summer day, or you’re playing a sport, and you’re uncomfortable with your boxer brief, it can get annoying and change your mood. We wanted to own that first so we did that here locally in Montreal and then we expanded out west through Ontario and all the other provinces all the way going to Vancouver. Right now, I’m pretty happy to say that over 75% of our sales are outside our local province.

You’re first. You sold locally in Montreal. Is it safe in assuming that it was face-to-face in local markets? You had a lot of radio coverage and press coverage from people who are using your brand. How did you shift the first batch of products? Was it online or offline?

It was all online but I would have to say it was scrappy. There were a lot of the sportscasters and local influencers that leaned in and wanted to support our story and what we were about. It was all online so we would definitely ship the product to the person’s home. We did deal with an Express Canada post, which people locally were getting the product faster than probably Amazon orders the next day or two days and that was pretty cool because it was local. It wasn’t that they had to wait longer being in different provinces.

What helped us, however, is because of the snowball effect and the boom that we had on socials, Instagram, Facebook, and all our content that we created a local Montreal newspaper reached out. We reached out to them about our story and how we’re four guys and we quit our finance jobs and we’re trying to solve that, we’re in the process of solving terrible underwear days. One of the writers loved their story. We got an interview with this writer and he wrote us a one-page article front cover.

We were on the front cover of the December 8th Montreal Gazette newspaper. We had a whole page of our whole story, what we’re doing and how we’re getting there. The local support from that one article was phenomenal. We must have gained about 1,000 customers in that one drop of that article which ended up having backlinks that other newspapers right across the country picked up that day. We ended up doing well and that’s how we sold out during the holidays of 2021.

From what you’ve said, I would take it that press was an important aspect towards launching Manmade. I want to speak about press and the steps. I want to get tips because you guys have done a phenomenal job at it. Let’s speak to founder roles. Four captains in a ship is quite a lot. Who does what? What’s your management philosophy amongst you four?

The reason why it’s the four of us is we’re best friends, but we all have friends that sometimes you don’t see yourself going into business with. On the contrary, we knew that the four of us complemented each other extremely well. We’ll start with my partner, Robert. He’s a forward thinker. He’s a smart guy. He’s the head of marketing. He takes care of everything to do with the ads and the paid spend on all platforms and also product development. He does those two roles.

You have myself with customer experience, customer service, public relations, and owning and making sure that we have an ear to the ground when it comes to anything to do with the actual customer. You have a partner, Phillip, who’s the logistics back end, operations, efficiencies, and making sure we stay organized and on track with all the moving parts that are happening right now in our business. Especially when we talk about inventory.

You have Roberto. He’s a CPA guy. He’s head of technology and he’s always had a passion for tech and software. He’s a genius in my books. He’s smart and he’s able to learn things fairly quickly. He learned a lot in the years when he came about anything about technology. He’s also the head of finance. He’s handling the books and making sure that we’re on budget, we’re scaling properly, and we’re on track when it comes to our targets.

The quatro, Roberto, Robert, Phil, and Anthony, yourself. You’re the man we should speak to in regards to PR from what you said. In summary, what takeaways should readers take from your experience? What key first principles to press should readers be aware of when trying to build their brand through stories and the press?

Depending on the brand and the business that you have, it can be different but I’ll speak up about our industry in our business and what we’ve done. When we launched, we thought our target audience would have been between the age of 25 and 39 years old. When we first launched, this is what we were focused on and who we were speaking to but we soon realized that our actual customer was between the age of 35 and 65. It was an older gentleman or woman that’s buying for her man and we own that.

What we did was, we asked ourselves, or I asked myself, where is that age demo spending time that could be underpriced in terms of getting their attention? Definitely, TikTok and LinkedIn helped tremendously but we did realize that they still do read the paper. The newspaper was a huge win for us because there was no marketing cost, besides the hustle of trying to convince a writer, “This is why you’d want to write about our local business because of our story.” It’s being persistent, and then eventually getting an interview and the writer falling in love with your story and transcending that to his audience. That was the first step. That was a little light bulb that I received in my brain that said, “That worked.”

We got global news, CTV local news, and morning shows. They wanted us to go in and be interviewed. Radio was one of them as well. CJAD is a huge radio station here in Montreal and they wanted to interview us about our story, our product, why we quit our jobs, and to bring some light. It was local news, which they’re always there to inspire or to help local business businesses. When we did those, we were able to see that there were sales that were coming out of it and we’re building a community.

People fell in love with their story and then our product, which were the greatest two things that you would want as a brand and we just owned it. We went and we said, “What other morning news channels can we go and ask if they would want us to be interviewed?” I took a list of 20 or 30 of them across Canada and started emailing every single one of them until I got a couple of interviews booked and we did one. We didn’t do the interview and called it a day. We did the interview and made content out of it.

We tagged the local stations to make sure that they get the exposure and they get those marketing eyeballs onto their pages so they can see the direct correlation with working with guys like ourselves and then having that on our actual Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn where people making the decisions on the other end were able to look into us and see what we do when we work with certain publications. That sparked a whole new chapter in going into doing interviews on news channels, TV, radio, and of course newspaper articles.

Before I wrap that up, you need to know where your customer is and you need to be able to speak to them or to speak to that audience as directly as possible. What do I mean by that? For us, we have about 8,000 customers at the moment. When I looked at all my customers and where they lived, for example, I saw a lot of the people were from Edmonton.

I took my ten best customers and I called each and every one of them and I asked them, “What do you listen to in the morning?” “Where do you get your news?” “What do you watch in the morning?” “What do you read in the morning?” “Is there an influencer or podcast that you like to listen to?” “Is there an influencer or content creator on Instagram or on TikTok that you enjoy watching?” I wanted to understand who my customer was so I could be there too. I can get more customers like the ones that I have because the ones I have, I truly enjoy them. We truly enjoy them. It’s a great community that we’ve built so far of people that genuinely love our product and brand.

What answers came off the back of the survey you took with your top customers?

Calling them I had some good conversations asking what they do for a living, what radio stations they listen to, and so forth. What I found out is out of those top 10, 7 of them, listen to a radio station in Edmonton in the morning. Seven out of ten was pretty good odds. Those are pretty good numbers so I reached out to the host and he’s a guy. I reached out on Twitter because I saw that he wasn’t active on his Instagram as often and on Facebook his last post for a long time ago but he was active on Twitter. I reached out to him and DMed him on Twitter. He was interested in our story.

How I got to him was fairly honest about how it all happened. He saw that it was a lot of work to get to know who I am. I said, “We’re interested. The first thing we want to do is send you the product so you can see it for yourself. Here are all of the links to all the relevant things you could look at like our personal LinkedIn, our website, Instagram, Facebook, and all our relevant information that you can look into. We’d love to send you some products. Once you try them on, if you’re interested in interviewing us, it’ll be our pleasure to do it.” We ended up getting an interview and it’s scheduled for the month of July 2022.

In your story, what do you think resonates with people in general with the audience, writers, and with the public? What’s that secret sauce? Was it engineered? Was it by chance or a bit of both? What do you think resonates? 

A lot of people think about starting a business or wanting to start a business but they never have the right time. Either they’re too young, they think they’re too old, they’re having a kid, just bought a house, or got married. There’s always something stopping them. Being able to be four best friends who were getting married, got married, bought a house, are starting their life, have kids, some of us have children and just doing it.

It’s having a plan and making sure that we understand what we’re doing, and what direction we’re going into. Having clear communication between the cofounders and our significant others because it’s important that our significant others are also willing to sacrifice. It’s a sacrifice for the significant others what I’m trying to say. We had those conversations so that they are aware of what the next 2, 3, 4, and 5 years are going to look like. It’s a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. They were good. They understand our vision and they understand that we did our homework. We were ready to get into markets and make the initial investment to start the business.

That 0 to 1 of getting started and doing it resonates with people because they’re like, “These four guys got together to start a brand to solve the problem of terrible underwear,” and we’re doing it. We have thousands of customers that have written to us either by a review or email saying how they love our underwear, and how they didn’t know that this type of functionality in a product exists. Also, how happy they are and how proud they are that four Canadians got together and are making this happen.

That’s part of the story that resonates with them. They’re doing it and it’s possible. Hopefully, we can inspire others to do the same. As Steve Jobs says, “When you’re happy doing what you do, great things happen.” It’s along those lines. I might be paraphrasing it but it’s true. We’re content, passionate, happy, and motivated to build this into a household brand.

Speaking to press, you’re due to come on the Canadian Dragon’s Den in September 2022. You’re on a nondisclosure agreement with them until the episode airs. My question specifically is, how do you get on Dragon’s Den? What tips do you have for startups or even existing eCommerce businesses that want that opportunity? Do you just apply and hope and pray? Is there a method to get into the selection?

When you were a young man, and you were trying to get into the hottest club in the city, you could have done two things. One, figure out a way to make sure you’re getting in because you want to have the fun, or two, you wait in line, you hope for the best and you roll the dice. Let’s say we’re the number one option. For us, we knew that we were going to Dragon’s Den. We knew that this was TV. We knew they were looking for entertainment so we wanted to make sure that they would see what they were going to get when it came to our brand.

When you're happy doing what you do, great things happen. Click to Tweet

A lot of people start a clothing company or an apparel company and apply to Dragon’s Den. This is what we were told by our producer so we did the right thing. What we said to ourselves is that we’re going to show them that we’re comfortable with being entertaining. We took the four personalities. Our initial application video was a video that we did where we shared on our social platforms, which were Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, but we owned it on Instagram when we shared that actual application video saying, “Hey, guys. We applied at the Dragon’s Den. Here’s our application video. If you like what you see and you want to see us on Dragon’s Den, please share and tag @CBCDragons in your stories.”

It blew up. We got 70,000 views on that reel and 900 shares. The producer we ended up working with was in charge of the Instagram account and she said that was a way to get our attention 100%. She shared the story on her page on the CBC Dragons Den page saying, “These guys got our attention. This is one way to do it.” We knew we had a good chance to get an audition.

The audition was done virtually. We were a little bummed out about that because we wanted to go and we wanted to go there and we had a whole audition planned where it would have been better if we were live rather than on a screen like this. We said, “Screw it. We’re still going to do it and we’re going to position it in a way that you can see everything in the office. It’ll be the same thing. We need to bring our A game so we can lock it in and make sure that we get onto the actual show.” That’s exactly what happened.

We went in prepared. We did our audition and we were one of the first. I believe she did say we were the first company that they called and when the producer had to pitch us to her executive producer, he said, “Not another underwear company.” She said, “They’re not. They’re an essential brand for men who make core products, essential products men need without the BS.” She spoke as if we were there, which was exactly what we wanted to transcend as the brand and what we’re about rather than being an underwear company because we’re not an underwear company. It landed us a spot on the show.

When we got on to the actual show, we also knew we wanted to bring our A game to make sure that we can secure a spot of airing live in the fall. What they do is they overbook or you will go on the show and if the executive producer doesn’t like the footage that he has he can decide not to air you on TV. We knew that we still didn’t have a lock locked in. We needed to make sure we brought the entertainment factor and I’m proud to say we definitely did.

What about your supply chain? You started out with boxers. Manmade now has a portfolio of products. Do you want to break down your supply chain and your current product offering?

Yes. When we started, we wanted to focus on the functionality and the quality of the product, rather than the fast fashion with a lot of brands, especially in the garment industry where its colors and prints. We want it to stay lean in terms of SKUs. It was also hard to manage different colors and initial investments. We’d rather have done it in a color that the majority of men wear.

We did a survey and that survey tells us 70% of men wear black and they were boxer briefs so we said, “That’s exactly what we’re going to do,” and we came out with a simple modal boxer brief with a man sack pouch, a silky smooth waistband, a no roll, no bunching up or riding up legs and we made sure that we built the most functional product out there.

For us initially it was the boxer brief in black and we wanted to focus on coming out with different products rather than the same product in different colors and styles. We did the black boxer brief. We have the low cut and the crew sock that shortly came out in December of 2021 and we launched at the end of August 2021. Now we have the t-shirt coming out as well as the soap bar at the end of July 2022.

Supply chain, we deal with four different countries. The boxer brief is made in Sri Lanka. Our socks are made in Taiwan, our t-shirt is made in China and our soap bar is made in the US. Many people might be thinking, “That’s a lot of different manufacturers to work with and that’s a lot to manage.” We do our research and we make sure that we work with a manufacturer that is considered a partner before engaging ourselves with the actual manufacturer. We want to work with manufacturers that are WRAP certified, that are socially responsible, that are working with the best manufacturers that we can find and we’re proud to say that we have and we do work with solid manufacturers.

When it comes to the supply chain or having to manage all these different moving parts, it is a little bit of a challenge. I’m not going to lie, but I am going to say that the same work that it would have had that we would have spent coming out with a trunk or a brief or boxer shorts is the same amount of work that is implied or is done to come out with a sock, a t-shirt or a soap bar.

At least we’re coming out with something in a category we can fundamentally foundationally help a man’s life. That’s what we want to do. We want to be able to provide them with the core products that they need to be better men. It makes them feel better to have a functional product that they’re proud to be wearing. It’s comfortable, simple, and of high quality.

With quite a complicated supply chain, I wouldn’t say it’s complicated per se because each manufacturer is handling one SKU and one product type. When you eventually grow one account manager per supplier should suffice if not 1 to 2. It would even out longer term. From what you’ve said, it seems to me that vision for the brand is to be a men’s essentials brand whereby when I wake up in the morning, I’m utilizing a number of manmade products whether it’s my oral care, my facial care or body care with the soap or whether it’s my undergarments, my boxers, my t-shirt or apparel. How do you see the portfolio evolving beyond these four SKUs or four product types in the next 3 to 5 years or even decades?

We want to be able to be the core of a man’s foundation when it comes to taking care of themselves. Our underwear is made of a fabric that is three times more breathable and absorbent than cotton. Our t-shirts are made of Pima Cotton Modal. They feel lightweight. They fit you. It’s tighter around the shoulders and the chest and a little looser on the belly.

Our socks I have a low-cut and a crew sock so the crew sock and the low-cut socks are made of the same material. It’s a comb twisted cotton with a French Terry interior that absorbs your sweat. It makes you feel fresh and comfortable. Your feet don’t smell. There’s no synthetic material that is making it uncomfortable or extremely sweaty. We always think about these things and we continue rolling out new products with ways of bettering a man’s life.

In our soap bar, for example, we removed everything that we call “yucky” and we kept the good stuff in the actual soap bar. We use moisturizers in the soap bar like Jojoba oil, coconut oil, aloe vera, and shea butter. We enrich it and make that bar soap as rich as possible and as long-lasting as possible, where a lot of the natural soaps are made with natural ingredients, but all the 100% natural soaps, after 3 or 4 washes, they’re done. They are extremely expensive. They can irritate your skin and cause your skin to be extremely dry. It’s a fine balance of catering to our men and making sure that he’s happy and content with a high-quality product he has in his wardrobe or bathroom. Deodorant, skincare, and athleisure pants might be next.

We get the customer involved when it comes to coming up with our next products. We did a survey where our open rates are phenomenal because we want to be able to involve our community as much as possible with whatever new products we’re coming out with. We did one and our community is calling for athleisure pants. To be frank with you, they want a functional athleisure pair of pants, a jogger or something that’s comfortable. They want navy and gray boxer briefs so those are two colors that they want to see us come out with. We’re going to listen to our community because that’s exactly what we want to do. We want to build a brand for our community. That’s our job. We work for them. That’s what we want to do.

I like the vision and I like the fact that you’re getting customers involved. It’s a circle. Your product innovation circle is driven by your vision and customer sentiments. It’s so interesting. Let’s talk about finance. Are you bootstrapped? Did you raise capital? Where are you as an organization? All we’re talking about is capital intensive. I know you’re for your four individuals. I’ll assume you probably brought some seed capital to the table. How have you guys funded the initial growth? You’re coming to be a year old in 2022. How’s that panned out up until now?

When we first started, we bootstrapped the whole business. We put about $20,000, Canadian into a bank account, and from there, we bootstrapped everything. We got some financing from some major banks here in Canada, where we’re able to grow substantially when it comes to inventory. For us, the way we’re going to help ourselves when it comes to supply chain issues and getting the product in time here in our warehouse is by sitting on a lot of our inventory.

We’re going to make a substantial investment, we’re going to make a substantial investment in inventory so that if there are any delays in receiving our next shipments, it will not affect our business negatively when selling out of products, especially when you have minimal SKUs. You need to make sure you’re stocked up to supply the demand.

Especially with Dragon’s Den coming in September 2022, the last thing you want to do is run out of stock, and then there’s a Q4 frenzy that is going to be busy for yourselves. Finally, I want to wrap up around the way you build an audience. This game is about building a relationship with an audience up front and then converting some of that relationship into actual customers, eventually. The people who shop on your website then become longer-term customers. 

That top-of-funnel bit which is audience building, how PR has been your fundamental bases gets into the front of the gazettes, kudos to you. It’s amazing stuff. That was driven by your story. With what social platforms, do you do YouTube? What about short-form content on TikTok and Instagram? What does that mix look like? How are you guys producing content that’s meaningful to the wider audience and building that community up front?

For us, we do a lot of behind-the-scenes content. If you follow us on any platform, maybe Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or LinkedIn, we always show the behind-the-scenes. We make sure our community is aware of what we’re going through. We give them bite-sized pieces of information about what’s going on internally with our business and always through video content most of the time, which is the number one leading piece of content you want to put out there. We make sure that we stay top-of-funnel.

Even if you find this on a sponsored ad or anything on the ad spend side, you’ll always see the founders, myself, or my three friends here. You always see us in front of the screen, talking about the issue of terrible underwear and how we came out with this product. Ten months out, we’re talking about our story, how we quit our finance jobs to do this and we’re all in on this project, and to give them a try. We also tell them that there’s a fit and comfort guarantee, which gains that credibility that we put in the hard work to make sure the product is great.

We do have hundreds. We’re almost at 500 Google reviews. We’re only a few months out so there are 500 Google reviews for Manmade and we’re close to 500 product reviews that are all done by different customers across Canada. We answer every single comment and every single DM. In the beginning, when we would get a new follower on any platform, they would receive a video from one of the founders, which is either myself or guys saying, “Thank you so much for being a follower and following our journey. If you have any questions about our brand or our products, reach out. It’ll be our pleasure to help you.”

Lastly, we have something called the Manmade Concierge Tech Service. With Roberto being head of technology, he and the software engineer that we have in-house built out a text message concierge service. The way that works is when you order from us online for the first time you receive a text message saying, “Welcome to the Manmade family,” then you receive a second text message with your tracking number once your order has been packaged.

We get the customer involved when it comes to coming up with our next products. Click to Tweet

If ever you have any customer service inquiries or if you’d like to restock any of your goods, you can do it by text. You can say, “I want five more boxer briefs.” We will not send you a link. It is completely seamless. We will ask, “This is your size.” “Is it the same billing, and shipping? Answer yes.” They say yes and it’s shipped to their door. That’s something that’s super convenient. Right now, we’re controlling it. Four founders have it on our phones or on our screens, but we are working on getting it automated with our software engineer who specializes in AI and getting things automated so we can reach scale.

As a startup, it definitely helped us get our return rate, make it convenient for customers, being there for them and we’ve also created a loyalty program, where if you are part of this community, you do get special deals, special packages, bundles, and a free coffee once in a while. We’ll give out a QR code for free coffee at Tim Hortons for all our customers and be able to be close to our customers as much as possible to provide them the absolute best experience when dealing with Manmade.

That’s incredible, the SMS feature where I could reorder by text message. That’s challenging to pull together, meaning the payment details are saved to your system. I believe you’re running BigCommerce at the minute. 

I want to comment there. Yes, they are, but they’re done in a tokenized fashion. I had some experience in payment processing. What we did is we had our original relationships in that world, which allowed us to integrate with NMI. NMI is a leading gateway when it comes to payments. They are PCI compliant with all the big card brands and they tokenize. They store customer data and they tokenize it so whenever we say, “The customer wants five pairs,” we can do it on the platform with a click, but it’s not us who’s storing the data. It’s the gateway. We have backend integration with Twilio for the actual text message platform.

This is a headless implementation where you have your payment and your API there with the NMI. You guys have essentially created this frontend SMS app that can take and understand orders. At the moment, you’re manually processing that but it’s amazing. It’s interesting how commerce can transcend nontraditional platforms. What’s the uptake, thus far with the SMS orders when people are aware of their ability to order or to top up their orders? On a scale of 1 to 10, how many people would take up that offer, and how many people will be utilizing the service?

We have done zero marketing but what we do is, once or twice a month, at most, depending on the month, we have a campaign where you receive a JPEG of our faces saying, “We have a seven-pack available for $154 only by text. Write back Yes, if you’re interested.” We’ve seen that we were able to add about 15% on our top line month-over-month just by the text message platform, which allowed us to increase our return rates. A lot of customers are like, “Can I order anytime with this?” We’re putting in the grind by saying, “Yes, of course. Not only are you putting in orders, you’re putting them in with the cofounders.” We let them know you’re speaking with Anthony or you’re speaking with Roberto.

When you receive your package, you receive an insert. You know who we are. We’re part of the marketing on the first touch point. We’re part of the marketing when you look at our social platforms, and our storytelling abilities, and then you get another touch point with this. You’re speaking to us by text and ordering your underwear seamlessly by text and it feels personable. That’s the winning formula of what allowed us to scale so quickly. A lot of brands shy away from doing personal or non-scalable practices early on in order for them to build a loyal community that will, in fact, be your voice to their friends, to their surroundings.

It is insane how many people have reached out who have local retail shops that have local soccer teams, hockey teams, football teams, or golf teams going, “I heard it from my buddy. I have a retail shop. I keep seeing you guys. Your products are amazing. I would love to make a minimum order in my retail shop out in Vancouver.” We don’t own one in Vancouver. This is organically happening because of that.

We’ve handwritten more than 6,000 cards at this point. We’re getting ready for the integration of a kit, which is a box, a Manmade starter kit. It’ll have 2 pairs of boxers, 2 pairs of socks, a t-shirt, and 2 soap bars. It’s a great gift or starter kit with us that will roll out probably when Dragon’s Den airs. You have that Dragon’s Den box that we presented to the dragons when we were there.

There’s also a subscription element to that. We’ll speak about that a bit later. It’s interesting tips. I’ve learned quite a lot and my takeaway from this is theoretically, in marketing we say, “Your story is so important.” Yes, it’s so important, but what you guys are doing is we’ve got a great story and we’re reinforcing the story with visuals and with more narrative, and the more you get to engage with us. 

You’re going to have that opportunity to engage to speak with us so you’re part of that story at this point in time, which not many brands follow through. They leave the story at the top on their website and that’s it but you’re taking that story with you into messaging and engagement. Speaking of which, in your email flow, I see that you use Klaviyo. Are your emails personable with photos of yourself? Do you guys sign out in your emails? What do your email flows look like? I’m not talking about the technical, but the concepts of how your email flows feel.

You’ll always see us in our email flows. It’s personable. There’s a touch point, at the end of the sale a lot of brands forget to do once the person buys your product. You want to know and hear about them and how they like your product. Three or four weeks after you buy from us, I personally email you and ask how you like our product and how you like our brand. The open and the reply rate is through the roof, which is phenomenal.

We’re so grateful for that but a lot of the email flows that come out like confirmation emails, abandoned cart emails, restock emails, campaign emails, there’s always us. We try to make it fun, cheeky, and entertaining by involving the customer and keeping it on brand, keeping it fun. However, keeping it super functional, clean, and high quality when it comes to narrative graphics and storytelling. We will always want to keep it flowing consistently from the top of the funnel to the bottom of the funnel.

Anthony, I can go on and on. I’m being respectful of your time. We’re coming to the hour now. I want to wrap up by asking you what final tip you have to brands out there looking to essentially grow given the tough economic challenges right now. How do you blast through all of the noise at the moment? Many retail indexes are not looking good. Consumer demand is certainly depressed across your side of the Atlantic and this side of the Atlantic. What tips do you have to persevere through the next months?

Make sure to be extremely organized and to have a plan not only a macro but a micro. For us, at the beginning of every year, we come up with our master plan for the year. All the goals, sales, operations, tech, company, culture, you name it, we go through the pillars, how we’re going to get there into personal roles between the four of us, our employees, and our team.

For us, it’s one of those things where you need to make sure that you stay hyper-focused and have a game plan. Stick to your game plan but if ever you need to be agile, nimble, and move quickly, make sure that you allow yourself that opening because we could win as a smaller brand. Because we are so agile and nimble, we’re able to make a decision today and we’ll see a result in a month where a bigger brand might need a year or two before getting there.

Stay organized. Make sure to stay on your feet. Don’t take your foot off the gas. Once you catch your stride in your momentum, it’s not the time to be slowing down. You need to be leveling up, pushing forward, and keeping positive. I believe that in times we’re going to right now, where there is hyperinflation it is a bit of a depressed economy. Only the strongest survive. If you persevere and get through to the other side, there will be a big pot of gold waiting for all the brands or all the businesses that persevere because when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Keep at it.

You need to stay focused. You need to make sure that you’re chipping away, staying aware, and adapting or changing if climates are changing. Also thinking outside the box. The last thing I’ll say is that there are a lot of different channels, Facebook, Instagram, and paid acquisition but holistically, you have to look at your brand and say, “These are great channels to help me scale but that’s not going to be the be all that’s going to get you to build your business to where you want it. You need to do the little things that other people are not willing to do. If you start doing that, you will see success.”

Terrific advice. I like your hats. Can customers buy your hats on your website? I couldn’t find any.

No. Unfortunately, the hats have been used because we do have the black boxer brief and it’s functional in the sense that it’s a black-on-black boxer brief. It’s not loud. We don’t focus on loud branding on products so we made these caps so that when we make our videos, we do our social, or do any content that this logo is front and center and it’s being recognized. We used to hand it out to influencers, and people who made larger orders.

We do some live shopping experiences on Instagram once a month. Depending on the orders they receive, we’ll raffle off five orders on that night and will receive a cap with the draw that we do. We don’t sell them right now but the demand is extremely high so there’s a possibility in the near future that we’ll roll out the hat. For the time being, we don’t sell the capsule but I can try to hook you up for sure.

Nice one. Limited Edition Finally, for people who want to find out more about you guys, your ManmadeBrand.com. Also, search for the Manmade Brand on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. All four of you are on LinkedIn. I’ve sent a connection request to all of you. You’re on TikTok, most especially. 

It’s been terrific having you, Anthony. I didn’t think we were going to go over an hour just speaking but you have so much to say. You guys have done so much in the time you’ve been doing what you’re doing. I want to congratulate you thus far. More grease to your elbow. I wish you guys the best. It looks like you’re going to build an extensive portfolio of essential men’s products. You’re pretty much bang on brand.

Thank you so much. I appreciate that coming from you. Thank you.

It’s great to have you on the 2x eCommerce Podcast.

About the host:

Kunle Campbell

An ecommerce advisor to ambitious, agile online retailers and funded ecommerce startups seeking exponentially sales growth through scalable customer acquisition, retention, conversion optimisation, product/market fit optimisation and customer referrals.

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