On this podcast, we talk about Anthony’s framework of manifesting their goals, the pros and cons of having 4 co-founders, how they convinced their wives to support their entrepreneurial itch, and so much more!
Along with his 3 best friends and co-founders, they left the financial industry to pursue a problem they all had: terrible underwear. From underwear, socks, t-shirts and soap their mission is to provide men with quality essentials men need, without the BS they don't.
Anthony Ciavirella is the co-founder at Manmade, the most comfortable boxer brief ever.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
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Being finance guys, we don't think we had the creative juices that we needed. But on the contrary with today's landscape, being yourself is the best marketing.
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. Today I'm welcoming to the show, one of the co-founders at Manmade, the most comfortable boxer brief ever. Anthony, welcome to the show.
Hi Chase, thank you so much for having me.
I'm excited to chat. So let's dive in. What was going on in your life? Why did you decide that you wanted to make a boxer brief company?
Oh, it was crazy. The story dates back to about 2 years ago. This is a brand that consists of 4 co-founders, my best friends, some of us have known each other since kindergarten.
So as before the "quatro" that we are, we have 2 things in common. We had an entrepreneurial itch that definitely needed scratching and terrible underwear days.
So back in June of 2020, we went into a cabin, brainstorming ideas of finally leaving our finance careers to start a direct-to-consumer business.
It was a hot, humid day in Montreal. For anybody that's been to Montreal or around Montreal, we were in Mont Tremblant. It was humid and we kept talking about how uncomfortable we were in our underwear to be quite frank.
And then one thing led to a joke. Who is a male that likes to go commando who just deals with whatever his wife buys him.
The other guy, he's been buying the same boxer briefs since he started wearing boxer briefs. And we just said "It has to... There has to be a better solution."
So we did our research, we made our business plan, and we just got really excited and driven to start this brand. And 34 iterations later, 10 months of sweat and tears, ups and downs, we finally launched on August 30 of 2021.
And 11 months later, a lot has happened. And we're so happy that we made that that first week.
You said something there that I've only heard, I believe, once before on this podcast, which was you and your co-founders were intently trying to find an idea to launch a business around.
Tell me more about that.
Yeah, so we all have... We've known each other a long time. So [we're] best of friends, we're always talking about how things are going in our personal life, and we're just opening up to one another.
And we all knew that we had that entrepreneurial spirit. But we had really good jobs, [some of us are] having kids, but we all had that fulfilling driver.
We have somebody in common that we all like very much and that we like to follow and take advice from and his name is Gary Vee. I got to meet him a long time ago. And it was always something that we wanted...
We were itching that we wanted to become an entrepreneur, starting a business, and we all have the same common interest, which was like I said, direct-to-consumer online Ecom. And yeah, man.
So we decided, "You know what, if we're going to do this, we can't just do it freestyle. We have to have a plan." That's the way we are.
And we need to buckle down and realize, “Okay, we have a bunch of good ideas, but what's the one that really makes us tick?" And we need to figure that out.
So we asked our wives for permission to go up north and to be like, "Please, we've known each other a long time. I know, you know we have good jobs and all that and things are going decent. But we really need this. We really want this in our lives." And they really...
They supported it. So we went up north but we promised them that we'd have a plan. It would be concise, it'd be clear and we'd all have the same Northstar and that's what we did.
We went up north, we narrowed it down from 100 ideas on the way there, driving there, jotting them down.
We packed our whiteboards, our laptops, the classics, and we just kept thinking and talking and brainstorming. And I remember like it was yesterday. It was like around 2pm-ish. We were outside on the terrace.
We did a little bit of a session on a terrace outside and we were like "Damn, it's hot. It's humid." And we went for a little walk to get the rain going.
And we're just complaining about our underwear. And then that really got passionate and steamed up to "Okay let's go look a little bit into... Look at the underwear out there and what our guys are buying. Let's do some real research for the next hour or two." Our minds are blown.
And then we're like, "Okay, let's start with ordering some to see how they fit in what's the big... Think about some of them." And then we got obsessed. When we came back from Montreal, that's when it all started.
When we got back, we got to work, and started to look: Feel different fabrics, feel different styles, different designs, and none of them really quite did it. A lot of them were smoke and mirrors. They...
We used them, we washed them, we tried our best to understand how it really helped us throughout the day and it just wasn't working. But the one thing that did work is the Modal fabric. That was amazing. That was like...
All 4 of us, as soon as we put on Modal underwear from one of our manufacturers that we start working with, we're like, "Oh my god, this fabric on my skin feels like you're not wearing anything. Like a second skin." That's exactly what you want, right?
You want to feel like you're not wearing anything, but you're supported. So that's one thing. We really got to work and 34 iterations later, we came out with The Boxer Brief.
Let's talk about that timeframe.So repeat for the listeners out there. You guys locked yourselves in a cabin in the woods on what day and then when...
And how long from when you're struck by lightning with the idea until you had your first prototype, I guess. And then...
...obviously, there were some iterations from there.
So we went up north June 2020 and we did the whole brainstorming and got really excited.
Those 3 days, we're able to plan our macro of what we wanted to do. We did a lot of research. So we surveyed like over 3000 men.
So we basically planned out what we were going to do to build the business plan to get enough data to be able to understand who was our target audience, who we're going after, what are the visible/non-visible elements of this brand that we want to create.... So that's June 2020.
Got the idea up North, came back to Montreal, started working on that, did the surveys, did the R & D, did the research... That ticker started then.
So 10 months after that time, till the time that we launched, which was August 30 of 2021, is when we actually launched our first product. So that's the whole experience.
We had the hurrah moment up north, got really excited about it, 10 months of R&D, research, surveying, building the brand, the websites, all the details around it, and then we launched on the 30th of August 2021.
So I guess, yes. Alright, June 2020 to August, end of August.
That's about a year.
Absolutely. How did you interview 3000 guys?
SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey and friends. We had a lot of friends.
And definitely all our boys knew about this whole project we had, and they got excited about it behind us and we wanted to survey them. But obviously there's some biases there. But then we decided to do a survey.
We built out a whole survey. And we launched this at 3000 North American men.
We also made a brand called Larry’s Basics, a Facebook page and a simple website. And we basically ran brand awareness ads. Robert took the lead on that.
And for a dollar, we're able to get either emails or even a telephone number of people, saying “Would you be interested in a Canadian brand that's willing to come out with boxer briefs and so on and so forth? Would you be interested in being part of the experience of producing this product?"
And surprisingly enough, we got about 100 phone numbers. And I started dialing.
"What do you wear now? Why do you wear them? What would you like to see in your underwear? What's the fabric you're wearing?"
"I don't know."
"What do you know about cotton/polyester?"
"Okay, why do you wear polyester?"
"Well, because it isn't right up. Dadadada."
"Okay, why don't you wear cotton?"
"Because it gets loose throughout the day."
We gathered all that data and they gave us...
It made us understand what other men are thinking and how they're thinking, and it helped us to create this boxer brief that basically is our whole mission: It's to provide men with the quality essentials they need without the BS that they don't.
A lot of guys that signed up to this thing were willing to stick with just a black boxer brief as long as it was well-designed, good quality box briefs, rather than worry about colors, prints, and all that stuff. All the "BS'' that we like to call it at the end of the day.
Because we're not a fast fashion brand. We're a function-first brand.
That's amazing. So you get all this feedback. It helps direct how you're producing this product. You guys go to the market with this new product. How do you get customers?
Alright, so throughout the process of that...
I'm thinking June...
Yeah the beginning of June to August is a little bit over a year, so call it like 12 months or a year's time, we had enough time to launch to not just work on the product.
Now we're full time and fully engaged. All 4 of us are working at full capacity. We're doing our 10 - 12 hour days with zero sales.
And just market research, making sure the product is where it needs to be, making sure that we're building content, making sure that we're staying focused on our Northstar.
So how do we get that is by creating hype, by creating the behind-the-scenes, by creating content. By starting to explore with platforms like Tiktok, and LinkedIn, and Facebook, and Instagram.
So we all have the same people that we know, but there are people within our careers in finance, for example, on LinkedIn that don't cross pollinate.
So we made an agreement that all 4 of us would share our experiences, our story, our version of what it's taking to build this brand.
So we got people excited about standing behind this whole new venture that we're going through. It's a big deal for guys. We're in our early 30s starting a business, some of us have kids or married so a lot of people... We got their attention.
And when we launched, we started with a minimum quantity order of 10,000 units and solely on organic, slight paid ads, just testing [that out].
Robert was really nice because he's head of media buying and he was just testing the market in terms of understanding CPAs, cost per click, CPMs. And he basically...
When he was in a testing phase, we all were working on our organic content. And when we launched, the first 10,000 units were all sold organically.
So that was pretty cool to see the power of organic content and how far it can go just with your circle of influence and powerful tools, like for example TikTok and LinkedIn Builder, too.
These are two tools that are really crucial for a lot that's going on in selling that first 10,000.
Sometimes it's an indirect relationship that is made that will bring you to some solution to help you think outside the box or work with someone that can help you.
For example, Montreal has a publication and newspaper, it's called the Montreal Gazette. And we ended up getting the front cover of that newspaper.
It's right before the holidays and to help the sell out organically. Our 10,001st run a black boxer briefs.
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So you spoke a lot about making the right calls and making the right choices. Is there anything in the history of... [Are there] any mistakes that you made that you learned from or that you can share with the audience and to not make those mistakes?
Definitely. So right now I'm sitting in my pick and packing or preparing the orders room. Fulfillment room, rather.
So I'll just turn my laptop and you'll see when we walk into the office right there. Those are... When you walk in, that's a wall and an office conference room.
And above it, you have underwear with tape and some written words below us. And it's a reminder of all the failures that we had to go through before coming out with our actual product.
And there's actually 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6... But there are really 34 types of iterations. But those were the 6 crushing moments that we thought we had it, we were almost there, but then we weren't.
And we didn't want to go to market with a subpar product that we're not 100% confident with. Yes, there was, especially in producing the boxer briefs.
Because 4 finance guys, we all complement each other well in business. But when it comes to designing a boxer brief and not having any experience when it comes to designing garments, or in the garment industry, period.
We had to do a lot of the heavy lifting ourselves, learning ourselves, hiring the right talent, working with the right talent, finding the right talent. And there were a lot of obstacles in the way.
But we kept strong. We made sure to never give up. And sometimes we saw some darker times, like we were supposed to launch in May of 2021. And we ended up launching at the end of August.
We're looking at all of May, June, and August. We're looking at 3 full months, 90 days more that we have to wait because of a hiccup that happened with production on the first one.
Absolutely. How did you really overcome that fear of failure? How did you kind of keep making those decisions?
When we started, we knew that it wasn't going to be a straight line and as easy as that sounds, but it's the truth.
We knew that it was going to take a little longer, especially getting used to it forecasting time delays, I always consider myself extremely lucky to be in a partnership with 3 best friends. We really lean on each other.
For some days, one guy is a little bit more on the pessimistic side, but then the optimist comes in and shakes them off, and we feed off that energy a lot. So that's definitely one way that we're 4. And that allows us to be that way.
But on the flip side being 4, if you're not fully aligned, it can bring you 4 times slower and it can be much harder. So you need to make sure that we're on the same mindset.
And we do plan and manifest a lot of our future. So when we first spoke about our game plan and how we would get there, we did have stringent, really strict guidelines, or the timelines on when we needed to launch and how it's going to affect our cash flow and all that stuff.
But we also knew that there would have to be a buffer of a couple of weeks or months because it's not perfect. It was during COVID.
There's a lot of uncontrollable [factors], so we made sure that we were okay with the fact of going X amount of time, with the financial instability or financial standstill to be quite frank and just an investment and being patient, and we reminded ourselves that especially in those darker moments, and we came out on the other side okay.
Absolutely. And speaking of finances, you guys were pretty bootstrapped at the beginning, correct?
Correct. Yeah. Very, very, extremely... Until today, we're as scrappy as we can be.
Absolutely. Can you talk a little bit about how you were dealing with launching a brand with limited resources?
Yeah. So like I said, for us, it's very, very important that we're very transparent with one another especially being 4. It's a little easier, being best friends, and being in each other's personal lives a lot before starting the business.
But we made an agreement at the beginning that we all would have to share our situation financially, so that we know what everyone is getting involved with, and really opening the books and opening your hearts to one another. And we did that.
And we agreed that we wouldn't make any purchases, that we would be really responsible, we ironed out all those details, made sure we were all on the same page, and knew where we were heading.
And we knew that we wanted to start with initial investments that were very, very strategic yet frugal, and we didn't want to invest too much capital at the beginning. So it was $20,000 Canadian per co-founder.
And then what happened was that a lot of the marketing was done ourselves internally. And that's the way we wanted it. I could talk a little bit about how we tried to look for agencies. And being finance guys, we didn't think we had the creative juices that we needed.
But in contrast with today's landscape, being yourself is the best marketing. And we saw the results and continue to do that.
But yeah, the marketing is a lot done internally and bootstrapped and the initial investments which helped us purchase our first purchase order of products, allowed us to keep the lights on and keep moving till our launch.
And then since we sold out to 10,000 units before the holidays, it gave us the cash flow to make our order and then eventually continue bootstrapping this whole venture till today.
That's amazing. Now, is there anything that I didn't ask you about that you think would resonate with our audience?
I don't think so. I have tried to cover as much and I try to load my answers as much as possible, because I know it's a podcast, and I want to give as much value as possible, especially that we're in startup mode.
Yes, we have been [growing] month over month, 11 months, close to a year now coming about next month.
But a lot of it is just, you have to plan, you have to make sure, and we're very big on manifesting your outcomes.
So you need to think about where you want to be a year from now at the beginning of the year. And then throughout the year, you need to continue making sure you're aligned to your goals that you promised yourself you would do at the beginning of the year.
And just simply writing it down and having it front of mind is so freaking powerful. That is, I think...
We shocked ourselves. We go back a year from now. And we look at what we've written, and 99% hit. And it was like, getting on Dragon's Den, getting on the front page of Montreal Gazette, getting the publications and certain news channels around Canada, certain hockey alumni, NHL players.
Just crazy things that at the beginning when you're writing it, or you're saying and you're like, "Well, it'd be nice. And we're going to do our best to get there."
But it ends up just happening because you write it down and you make it your focus. And just make it your focus is my point.
Write it down, plan for it, keep on track, do your yearly manifesting. And then break it down into month, per month, and how you're going to attain those goals. And then on a weekly basis, revisit your monthly goals.
So make sure you're on track and just keep pushing.
Absolutely. That's some fantastic advice. Now, you've talked a lot about how much work and love went into these boxers.
If the listener out there is curious to try them out, where should they go?
Yeah, so we're 100% direct-to-consumer online. So manmadebrand.com is our website. You can order. [It's] pretty simple. We're all about functionality and it's all about simplicity.
So the one of the bigger reasons why we started in the boxer brief and essentials, is because of the noise that you have in this industry. You go on a pair of boxers...
And we were researching for guys. We're trying to figure out, what boxers should we buy?
Every time we go to websites or retail stores, you're just there scratching your head like "Which one should I get? Why this one? Or what's the difference"
Then you get home and you realize that the length is not what you wanted. It's just very noisy. Very noisy sector. So we wanted to make sure that was very much less noisy on our website.
So option wise, you're looking at white and black. So the boxer brief is just black. Our t-shirts are white and black, our socks are white and black. And we have one soap bar right now. So it's very...
It's few in selection, but core and timeless pieces. The white and black never goes out of style. [We're] not about fast fashion, less waste, and less use to manage. Keeping it simple.
So when you go on our website, it's extremely clean. We have a left hand bar where you can choose a couple of options and you can discover all our other bundles that we have. But it's super clean and easy and that's the reason...
It's done on purpose. That's the point.
Absolutely. Anthony, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Thank you for having me.
We 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.
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