Life's Work: Huckberry
March 19th, 2015
We've been seeing this common theme among our customers – one that extends way beyond the garments they choose to wear. It's this idea of passion and purpose: no matter what their life's work demands, these guys are digging deep and giving it their all.
Call them “modern Renaissance men”, but these are the guys we design for. Getting the corner office doesn't define their success (and most don't even work in a traditional office). They've made a life out of honoring what brings them joy, and are constantly working to achieve the best versions of themselves. Family, societal, and physical triumphs are just as important as their jobs, because these guys are building something bigger: a strong mind, body, and soul.
And that’s the inspiration behind Life’s Work: it’s a celebration of the people who pursue their lives with unwavering passion and purpose.
Which brings us to Richard Greiner and Andy Forch, co-founders of men’s online shop Huckberry. Recognizing a need among "guys' guys" who want functional, great-looking gear but not necessarily a vest that can take on Everest (as Andy puts it), Richard and Andy quit their jobs as investment bankers and launched Huckberry in 2011. The site serves up new brands, goods, and stories on a weekly basis to ultimately inspire "more active, adventurous, and stylish lives". Needless to say, we’re huge fans, and couldn’t wait to sit down and chat with the guys.
Here, Andy shares more about Huckberry’s inception, what it takes to become "Bootstrapped, Profitable, and Proud", and how the company continues to stay true to its founding passion.
Richard Grenier and Andy Forch, Huckberry co-founders
How do you describe Huckberry to the uninitiated?
It's a place to discover and shop the world's coolest gear and stories.
With so many e-commerce sites out there, how do you stay focused on your own company’s mission?
Our mission to inspire more active, adventurous and stylish lives through exclusive sales, original story-telling, and authentic experiences. When we're considering a brand to feature or a story to run, we try to ask ourselves, “Is this central to our mission?" I'll be the first to acknowledge how hokey that sounds, but honestly, we do it, and it acts as a North Star of sorts.
You’ve never accepted venture capital for Huckberry. What drove you to make that decision, and what have you learned from bootstrapping?
Hah – well, when Rich and I started Huckberry, I suspect that we would have been laughed out of the room by VCs, being two ex-investment bankers with no prior experience in retail or e-commerce. But we were tenacious, sharp, and scrappy as hell – three qualities which I think are essential to entrepreneurship. We gained the confidence to bootstrap from following Jason Fried's Bootstrapped, Profitable and Proud blog, which really pushed the bootstrapping mindset of staying lean and mean, and iterating the product based on customer feedback. So I picked up a Photoshop for Dummies book and created our initial brand identity and front-end, and then we hooked up with my partner Richard's childhood friend's little brother — who was a junior studying computer science at UC-Berkeley at the time — to create the first public-facing version of Huckberry. It wasn't pretty but we had a website, and could start acquiring brands and customers.
I'm a huge proponent of bootstrapping and controlling your own destiny, but bootstrapping isn't right for every business model. Rich and I were able to do it because in the beginning we'd take payment from our customers before paying our suppliers, and thus had positive working capital.
One of the things I didn't have a true appreciation for when we started Huckberry was how bootstrapping really limits your immediate growth prospects. Growth is expensive — you have to plan for (and finance) problems that are 6 months to a year out — and so here at Huckberry our goal is grow 2x to 3x a year. It can be frustrating at times, watching opportunities go by because we don't have the resources to act on them, but at the end of the day, we love controlling our destiny and not having to answer to anyone.
Huckberry's blog, The Journal, houses some really exceptional content. Any favorite story or feature?
Thanks! A favorite? Hmm, so hard to choose just one, but if I had to, I'd probably choose a post by one of our Explorer's Grant winners. A year ago we asked our readers to write in with an adventure they'd always wanted to go on, and then we agreed to fund it as long as they wrote a post on our Journal, thus inspiring our other readers in one big karmic loop. Here's one of the posts by an Explorer's Grant winner.
It seems that today’s “guy’s guy” is showing this renewed interest in outdoor adventure, demanding gear either intended for or inspired by the outdoor lifestyle. Why do you think that is?
I think most guys are all about utility, and are looking for gear that not only fits their lifestyle but amplifies it. Brands like Ministry of Supply get this, and know that 99% of guys don't need a vest that can take on Everest, but rather need a vest that'll stand up to an October rain storm in Boston, and still look great after a bike ride to work.
Best meal you’ve had in recent memory?
My favorite meals are ones that I catch. My parents live on the Gulf in Florida, and there's no better meal than freshly caught stone crab or grouper.
Most meaningful outdoor adventure to date?
Rich and I recently returned from Australia, where our friends at Bellroy set us up for a date with Pete Barfoot, the "Bear Grylls of Australia." That honestly undersells the guy. Pete picked us up in a 4-WD truck with a snorkel, trailer and boat on the back, and drove us down the Great Ocean Road where over the next 24 hours we hunted, fished, went spearfishing for the first time, surfed, and went off-roading. Best adventure of my life.
What is something you’ve learned recently?
Focus, focus, focus. I recently read the book Essentialism based upon my buddy Noah Kagan's recommendation, and have really tried to edit down my life and what I work on. "Less, but better," as Dieter Rams would say.
What's your ideal use of a day off?
A trail run up on Mt. Tam with my wife followed by brunch at the Sand Dollar Cafe on Stinson Beach.
How have you chosen your mentors?
I think the best way to find a mentor is not to ask for help, but to offer it. We've tried to develop relationships in the industry with people who have domain expertise and have tried to nurture those business relationships into meaningful relationships.
And one more thing - how did you guys meet?