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The Importance of Trust in Growing a Business with Wylie Robinson - Honest Ecommerce Ep. 183

Wylie Robinson is the founder and CEO of Rumpl, a company that's on a mission to introduce the world to better blankets. 

Robinson started as a designer (architecture degree) and worked in many creative fields including graphic design, architecture, branding, illustration, music. 

Robinson is also a former professional mountain biker and avid surfer, skier, climber. 

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [01:27] Why blankets?
  • [02:28] How Wylie thought of the idea of blankets
  • [04:37] Pivoting from Kickstarter to a brand
  • [06:31] When or when not to release on Kickstarter
  • [07:22] Acquiring new customers post-Kickstarter
  • [08:30] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
  • [09:34] Sponsor: Mesa apps.shopify.com/mesa
  • [10:22] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [10:37] Experiencing co-founder separation
  • [13:18] How Wylie’s role at Rumpl changed over the years
  • [14:35] Wylie’s advice for delegation
  • [16:34] Build a product that you understand yourself
  • [17:51] Where to find Rumpl
  • [18:17] Why Rumpl’s product selection in Amazon different

Resources:

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  Transcript:

Chase Clymer  

Hey everybody, Chase here. My audio is peaking in the following episode a bit. It's still usable. Still a lot of great content so still listen to it. 

But just know that I dropped the ball on this one. I didn't check my levels and I'll make sure to do so in the future. Thanks a lot for listening and take care. 

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Wylie Robinson  

Hand over your trust and empower somebody to do something. If they don't get it right, be okay with that. But have a correction plan in mind for how to adjust.

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results. 

I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business.

Let's get on with the show.

Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And today we're welcoming to the show, Wylie Robinson

Wylie is the founder and CEO of Rumpl, a company that's on a mission to introduce the world to better blankets. How're you doing today, Wylie.

Wylie Robinson  

I'm doing great. Nice to meet you. 

Chase Clymer  

It's fantastic to meet you as well. So I mean, let's just get it out there. Why blankets?

Wylie Robinson  

Yeah, great question. It's a really interesting category. It's a commodity category so everybody participates in it. So the total addressable market is huge. 

And it's a really underserved category in the sense that there's really been very, very little innovation in it in decades. 

And we've seen a huge amount of textile innovation happening in athletic apparel, sporting goods, outdoor equipment, etc. 

And none of that textile innovation has flown through into this blanket category, which, of course, is the perfect use case for a lot of these materials. 

So there's just a big opportunity, large TAM, with low hanging fruit innovation. And  that's what compels us to it.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So where... What was going on your life? Where did the idea for this come from? 

Because I know there's a lot of listeners out there that are --I hate the term-- "watchpreneurs", but they want to get into this. 

The ideation of "What should my product be?" in rep is always a question that I like to ask.

Wylie Robinson  

Yeah, the idea started back in 2012. I was with a friend of mine, and we were on a ski trip and sleeping in the car. The plan was to ski the next morning, just outside Mammoth. And we woke up the next morning and the car had completely frozen, we couldn't turn it over. 

And we were just left sort of having to sit there in our sleeping bags and wait for somebody to help us. And it took several hours of us waiting there for somebody to show up. 

And during that time, we got to talking about how we really weren't that uncomfortable because we were wrapped in a sleeping bag. So we felt warm and cozy and comfortable and safe. And just got to talking about the reason for that being these great materials, how well they worked. 

And the conversation sort of turned into like, "Well, why isn't bedding thought of in the same way where it's like using these advanced performance materials to regulate temperature better and all this stuff?" And we both acknowledged that like we hated putting the comforter back in the duvet cover of our beds back home, that issue of shaking the comforter back in there. 

So we both often use our sleeping bags on our beds back home until we finally get around to doing it. And that sort of spawned the idea for what was called at the time just a "sleeping bag blanket", like a very simple rectangle made out of sleeping bag, ripstop, and synthetic insulation. And that was the end of the idea. 

And so when we got out of there, we got back to San Francisco where we were living at the time, and we went to a fabric store and bought some off-the-shelf materials that would sort of satisfy this need. We sewed it up ourselves. And that was that those were the two prototypes that we had to start the concept. 

From there, a bunch of our friends expressed this as a pretty cool idea. And I think that people would want to buy something like this. And so we actually did a Kickstarter to test that. 

We were still very unsure if this is a commercially viable idea. Did the Kickstarter, and that did really, really well. So that really launched the business and told us that there are other people that might be interested in this.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely nothing tells you [better] if you have product-market fit than a successful Kickstarter. 

Wylie Robinson  

Yeah, yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So with the successful Kickstarter, obviously, there's a lot of cool stuff that comes along with it like validation of your idea and, obviously, some capital. What were some of the challenges of taking the successful Kickstarter and pivoting to real business?

Wylie Robinson  

A lot. And I wouldn't say that they were all sort of resolved in the first several years of the company. I'll touch on a couple. One of the really early ones was, we had no distribution setup. 

We were totally unaware that --or unsure, I should say-- that people would actually buy into this idea. And so we hadn't set up a 3PL or a warehouse or anything. Maybe 10 people would have bought this thing, in which case we would have just fulfilled out of our apartment. 

But we sold like over 2000 units. And so we had to very quickly figure out distribution and and work with our factory partners to send products and label it correctly to be received by the distribution facility. And that was all like very, very new territory for both of us. So that was a problem right away that we didn't foresee. 

And I would say the bigger one that the one that really took the longest amount of time was getting the business in shape to service retail. Retail is done... Sorry, I should say wholesale. 

Wholesale is done in a very, very different way than Kickstarter, where you're receiving money for your goods, making them, and then sending them out to customers in a Kickstarter environment. 

Wholesale, it's like, you actually need to make your goods first: Plan them, get samples, show them to accounts, then take a pre order, --usually some percent of percent of your order money down-- actually make the product, and then deliver it, and then receive your actual payment in full. So it's almost completely opposite. 

And just getting the product ideation cycle to bump ahead so much further to be able to service wholesale took us years to do after launching.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. That's definitely difficult. So after, you know, the successful Kickstarter, you get that first round of product out and... 

The next ideation is the next products that you guys are bringing to market. Were you always launching them through Kickstarter or are you starting to do it through your own channels like through your own website or another platform?

Wylie Robinson  

We've really migrated more towards doing it through our own channels, if we do something that's out there, we typically test it on Kickstarter.  

The exact reason that I mentioned before, which is just that we can actually get validation, get market data, and actually get paid for the product before we make it. So it's very, very low risk to do Kickstarter. 

We've done a poncho, we did an electric blanket, we did a dog bed, those are adjacencies to our core product line. And so those are great things to test on Kickstarter. But everything else we do on our own channel.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So with that, with your own channel, one of the greatest benefits of Kickstarter obviously, is just the amount of eyes that you're gonna get on your product or on your idea and just the velocity and the traffic that it brings with using that platform. 

Obviously, you give up a little profit. How did you guys find and bring new business into the business not using Kickstarter in those first couple of years? Like finding those customers not through a different platform like that.

Wylie Robinson  

Yeah. That was just sort of organic brand building. Organic and paid acquisition. So we started running Facebook ads and social ads, and things pretty early on. We weren't very effective at it in the early days. But we definitely brought consumers in through paid efforts. And then just general you know, organic brand awareness. 

I mean, everything from partnerships that we would do with other brands, collaborations, giveaways, things like that sort of low hanging fruit to showing up at local events and street fairs and things like that to actually talk to consumers and get products in hand. 

So a vast network of things that we would do to actually drive organic brand awareness that would bring people over to our website to to actually make purchases.

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Chase Clymer  

So looking back on this early days of getting things started, does anything stand out to you like some challenges that you guys overcame or some mistakes, that you guys might have made along the way, that you want some of our listeners to try to avoid or learn from?

Wylie Robinson  

Tons. I think the biggest challenge that Rumpl went through in the first, probably, 3 years was I actually parted ways with my co-founders. 

We had to go through a co-founder separation, which can really end the business if there is sort of a disagreement between 2 founders on how to, on the direction for the business to go. That can sort of stop it dead in its tracks. 

So we got through that and I think did so pretty effectively to the extent that I'd say my partner still feels good about the equity he does retain in the company and still is able to claim being founder of the company and be a part of it, be a part of the journey as a shareholder now but with the sort of one person leading the company. That was the biggest one, for sure. 

The most taxing on me mentally definitely taxing on the systems and the team within the company at the time. That would be the biggest one for sure. And I don't know if there's necessarily an easy way to overcome that or advice to give. 

It's just, if you're starting a company and you're doing it with a friend or a partner, really make sure that that vision is super clear from the beginning. And in our case, we had this vision that we were both really aligned on. 

But traction of a particular product we were making just really took off. And so my perspective was that we really wanted to follow that traction and that momentum and exploit it. 

And I think his perspective was more "We need to continue product expansion and diversify our offering a little bit more." And we just sort of disagreed about that basic philosophy about how to grow the business. 

So I would say like, even if your idea for the future and your vision for the future is aligned, make sure that you have the same tolerance for adaptability if something starts taking off in the business and you need to pivot a little bit or adjust your strategy.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, partnering with anyone on a business is no light task. You definitely need to... The best advice I kinda got was actually from a lawyer, unfortunately. (laughs) 

But he was like, "You got to plan for the divorce at the beginning, when you're talking about a business partnership." 

So you have those tough conversations when there's no money or equity to really fight over and just just lay it all out there. "If this is successful, but we want to part ways, this is how you do it." 

So then when you do get to those difficult  situations, you at least have some basis to go from. And it's a little bit easier to hopefully come to an amicable decision. 

Wylie Robinson  

Yeah, definitely. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So we were talking in the pre-show a little bit about how your role with the company has changed and shifted over the years. How has that happened?

Wylie Robinson  

A lot. From the beginning, in the early days, it was definitely very, very tactical. I was doing all the customer service and making all of the creative assets and participating in all the photoshoots, holding the blankets, steaming them, rolling them up, setting them up for the camera, taking the photo sometimes... 

And now the vast majority of the team is better than me at every aspect of the company. And so really just like getting better at sort of steering the team in the right direction that can take advantage of all the talents we have within it. 

And so it's definitely still active management, but it's really more around empowerment, and showing confidence in the staff, and praising good work, and much less about giving people task lists. And so that evolution has happened over 6 - 7 years. 

And there's a whole lot in between that, of course. But looking at my job from day one to sort of what it is now, those are like the bookends that I'm working with.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Yeah. Do you have any advice for anyone out there that might be struggling with delegation?

Wylie Robinson  

It's just trust. And be aware of what failure will look like in your eyes, clearly communicate that and set a date by which you evaluate the performance of the person that you've delegated the task to. 

And if it's not working, go in and try to correct it or work with that person to adjust. Don't go in super hot and blow things up and fire somebody unless they do something really egregious. 

But basically, you just have to hand over your trust and empower somebody to do something. And if they don't get it right, be okay with that, but have sort of a correction plan in mind for how to how to adjust.

Chase Clymer  

I think you just hit the nail on the head there. It's something that I really like to highlight, whenever I'm talking about delegation with people on the show. [It] probably isn't going to work out right the first time, especially for some larger asks of people. 

Because what you have in your head, even if you write out the SOP or whatever, you're gonna leave a lot of it out by accident, just because you think it's easy are second nature to you. It's not when you're offboarding that stuff. 

And going into a delegation situation and knowing that the outcome isn't going to be perfect the way that you were always doing it, but knowing that it's a moment to train them up and help them become better, that's the attitude that you need to have or you're never going to be able to delegate successfully.

Wylie Robinson  

Yeah. Exactly. And you can stepstone it. If it's somebody that's newer, or you don't have as much experience with them, or you haven't built as much of a relationship, you can give them not-as-critical tasks to start with, and let them own those in full, and then gradually build up their responsibility to the point where they have things that they completely own, that are super critical to the business.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Now, is there anything that I forgot to ask you that you think would resonate with our audience?

Wylie Robinson  

One of the things that worked really well for us that I typically advise new companies that are starting or new entrepreneurs is it's so much easier when you're starting a company to build a product that you really understand yourself. I think... 

I've never had an experience doing this myself but I think it would be really, really challenging to start a business, offering a product or service that I that I wasn't a user of, and trying to really get into the heads of the consumer through data or through serving or through a variety of other things. It's just a lot of work to do that. And it's not...

Chase Clymer  

Yeah.

Wylie Robinson  

It's not inherent and it's not natural. And you really can arrive at solutions, good solutions, for a need much easier if you're building things that you yourself would value. 

So if people are starting businesses that are just way out there from where they are on a personal level, I'm usually a little skeptical that they're going to be able to nail it, unless they're an expert at consumer insights.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I think a lot of entrepreneurs, sometimes they follow the money or they follow a trend and it's not something that they have any personal care about. And if you don't love what you do every day, you're not going to want to do it, because it's not fun every day. 

Wylie Robinson  

Exactly. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So if anyone is curious about these innovative products that you've been talking about today, where should they go to check them out?

Wylie Robinson  

You can go to rumpl.com. That's probably the easiest that'll have our full collection of products. We're also sold in over 1000 retail doors in the US and quite a few internationally as well. You can also buy products on Amazon, but it's a slightly more limited assortment. Yeah, I would say rumpl.com is the best place to go.

Chase Clymer  

Quickly. Before we go here, I want to ask you a question. I know the answer to this but I want you to say it for everyone listening. Why do you have a different assortment of products on Amazon?

Wylie Robinson  

Well, we... A lot of our products have really really rich stories. There are artists’ partnerships, there are brand collaborations, they are really specifically designed for storytelling. 

That's one part that we didn't really get into, I guess, is in addition to the material innovation that we brought to the blanket category, we've also brought a really compelling brand and storytelling platform. 

One thing that we find super interesting about blankets is the way that you use the product is highly emotive. You wrap up in a blanket to feel warm, and cozy, and comfortable. 

All the things I talked about from that experience in sleeping bags stuck in the car. And despite that fact, very, very few people can name a single brand of blankets, despite [the fact that] they might have 10 in their home. 

It's really not a known thing: what brands are owning that category. And so one of the key things for Rumpl from the beginning is really building a strong brand. 

And part of that, of course, is really strong storytelling. And on the Amazon platform, circling back to your original question here... 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. 

Wylie Robinson  

In the Amazon platform that's often difficult to do. You sell commodity items, you sell sort of quick buy items. 

You don't need to do a ton of research on or be or be emotionally drawn to, in the way that we can tell those stories on our own own platform.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Wylie, I can't thank you enough for coming on the show today and sharing these insights. 

I'll probably reach out in a couple months and try to get you back on and we can dive in a little bit deeper on some of these topics. Any parting words for the listeners today?

Wylie Robinson  

Nothing really. Just go for it. There's no time like the present to start a business. So it seems super scary and there's tons of risk in doing it, but it's not gonna get any easier with time. So...

Chase Clymer  

Yep. The hardest step is the first step. 

Wylie Robinson  

Yep.

Chase Clymer  

Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us. 

We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes. 

Make sure you head over to honestecommerce.co to check out all the other amazing content that we have. 
Make sure you subscribe, leave a review. And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.