Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey there! My name is Kyle Bergman, and I am the Founder and Chief Swoverall Officer of The Great Fantastic. My brand’s mission is to create the world’s comfiest apparel products made from sustainable materials, and ethical manufacturing practices.
Our hero product, Swoveralls, is the combination of sweatpants and overalls into one glorious masterpiece. I sold my first pair about 18 months ago, and have done over $300k to date all while not only having a variety of full and part-time jobs, but also going to business school, and playing lacrosse for the Israeli Men’s National Team.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
At first, I was really just trying to solve a personal problem – Sweatpant overalls didn’t exist, and I wanted a pair. I’ve always loved overalls for reasons I can’t really explain. Perhaps it’s the fact they’re a little unique to wear…yet functional and practical.
Normal sweatpant overalls did not exist online after a quick google search, nor in any stores that I visited. So I made them.
Anyways, a friend actually sent me a BuzzFeed article about a novelty pair of sweatpant overalls they looked like denim overalls but were made of a sweatpant material. I said to myself, “Man, I would never wear those…but regular sweatpant overalls I would 100% rock!”.
Alas, “normal sweatpant overalls” did not exist online after a quick google search, nor in any stores that I visited. So I made them. But let’s back up for a second…
When my friend showed me the article it was early 2016, and I was a merchandise planner at Bloomingdale’s. Right out of college I went into the Bloomingdale’s executive training program and was there for 4 years learning the ropes of being a retail merchant. For those that aren’t exactly sure what that is – a merchant or buyer is someone who manages vendor relationships and decides what products a store will sell. Every item you’ve ever looked at in a department store like Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s, or even non-traditional retail stores like Equinox or Cabela’s has a buying team behind it that is making decisions on what products should shown.
I was an assistant buyer in luggage, a senior assistant in women’s fragrances, and then an associate merchandise planner in jewelry. Planners work with buyers to analyze the inventory risks and opportunities of the products and brands they purchase. The skills I acquired from these roles would play a critical role in my brand’s launch and growth.
In May 2016, I left Bloomingdale’s to pursue an amazing opportunity as the Men’s Grooming Buyer at Birchbox. Birchbox is a disruptive tech/e-commerce company that pioneered what is now a massive and very competitive subscription box environment. A little after I joined Birchbox, I began my MBA journey via the part-time program at NYU’s Stern school of business.
Around Winter ‘16/Spring ‘17 is when a few interesting things happen. I learned through school about Alibaba’s B2B platform, where a potential buyer no matter how big could procure goods from a seller. Additionally, I learned about Google’s Keyword Search Planner tool, where you could see what the search demand was for a given keyword, during a certain timeframe. Lastly, I began to learn more about Amazon’s fulfillment service. These 3 concepts would be instrumental to my company ever even getting off the ground.
Kyle and his Mom, Dad, Sister, and Dr. Honig (the family doggo)
While I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for when I googled “sweatpant overalls”, I did notice a search result for what looked like a rendering of sweatpant overalls on a mannequin. This result was on Alibaba’s website, and the item was indeed called “sweatpant overalls”.
Problem was, the minimum order quantity was 300 units. In other words, the supplier would only make sweatpant overalls for anyone who wanted 300 pairs or more. At the time, I had no intention of obtaining more than 1 (for myself!). However, I knew based on my buying experience at Bloomies that if I bluffed and looked like a serious buyer, I could get a sample for next to nothing…which at the time would solve my problem of simply just wanting a pair for myself.
I did in fact negotiate a price for 1 sample (think it was about $80 US), and actually received my pair – problem solved!
But then a couple new “good” problems arose:
1.) the french terry cotton they were made out of was really soft and amazing
2.) as a result, friends & family wanted a pair too!
Google’s Keyword Search Planner
Once I realized other people might want sweatpant overalls too, I used Google’s keyword search planner to see roughly how many people were looking for this term online. In the month of March 2017, this tool showed that between 100-1,000 people were also looking for sweatpant overalls.
Keyword search results in March 2017
A part of me was shocked, but after I thought about it…it made sense – probably a little awareness created from the BuzzFeed article, but more importantly, people just like me were looking for an awesome, comfy combo.
Amazon’s FBA service
Once I realized I had a supplier, and there was some sort of demand for this unique apparel item that didn’t exist, I knew the only way I would have any chance of selling sweatpant overalls was through Amazon’s fulfillment service.
Living in a shoebox apartment in NYC, I didn’t have any room for inventory, nor did I want to spend my time picking and packing orders….or finding a warehouse that would do the same. Additionally, I didn’t have any experience or budget to do a meaningful marketing campaign, but I knew Amazon would help me overcome these obstacles by
1.) holding my inventory in their warehouses
2.) listing my product on their site
What I didn’t realize is that you needed a legitimate business to start an Amazon seller’s account, and so I incorporated The Great Fantastic, LLC. in March 2017.
Why The Great Fantastic? Well, I knew I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself right out of the gate with a company name like “Sweatpant Overalls, Inc.”…so I chose a funky term that I thought could one day could become an amazing brand. Taking a trip into the great fantastic is something my Mom would say when referring to risk-taking and adventuring into the unknown.
It always stuck with me, and I thought it was such a cool term that could comprise the vibe and message I was trying to communicate..which was something like, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we don’t mess around when it comes to comfort.”
Funding the business
But how did I initially fund it? Well, in order to pay for business school, I had to take out a bunch of student loan money. For better or worse, I took out too much money for my first term and received a disbursement to my bank account for the funds that were not used for tuition, which
was about $10,000.
Normally, a rationally-minded individual would send that money back to the lender as it’ll lower your student loan debt. I decided to use this money to kickstart my sweatpant overalls project, and used most of it to pay for my first order from overseas.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Because of the Alibaba supplier, I was able to leapfrog some initial design and manufacturing steps that would come back later to bite me in the ass.
Every entrepreneur gets incredibly lucky at one point or another. Could be simple timing, or could be a blissful ignorance of the enormous risks that are not recognized, and therefore unknowingly avoided by chance.
I guess you could say I had both kinds of luck. Timing for me – my friend sending me the article, the item not existing, business school starting, etc. Blissful Ignorance – I sent $10,000 to a supplier in China I had never met in person, and only spoke to through the Alibaba messaging platform. Crazy.
I went back and forth via email with the initial supplier on design tweaks: we widened the straps, we added the jogger cuff, and we adjusted the fit and sizes for men & women accordingly, but at the end of the day, the “overalls” pattern was such a ubiquitous design that we were simply changing a well-known recipe slightly by adding a new ingredient…sweatpants 🙂
Every entrepreneur gets incredibly lucky at one point or another. Could be simple timing, or could be a blissful ignorance of the enormous risks that are not recognized, and therefore unknowingly avoided by chance.
Throughout this process I never received a “tech-pack” for the swoveralls which is analogous to a blueprint for a house – it is the schematic of your apparel item that can then be used by any knowledgeable manufacturer to reproduce your product.
I also didn’t realize how lucky I was getting with the order minimums (also known as MOQs aka minimum order quantity). This supplier would allow me to do 250 pairs per color, so for my first order, I ordered 500 pairs: 250 in grey, and 250 in navy.
I didn’t create any patents because I knew (from my Bloomingdale’s and Birchbox days) that patenting apparel designs is like the wild west – the biggest brands in the world are constantly copying (and sueing) and each other, and there was nothing proprietary about my design, just a unique combo of design and fabric. I did however trademark the term “Swoveralls”.
Picture of first sample ever I’m wearing in Birchbox Office!
Describe the process of launching the business.
Initially, I had no intention of launching my own website, let alone fulfilling product through it. I thought this whole project would be a nice form of passive income solely through Amazon’s platform.
Shortly after launching on Amazon though, I realized that for all the positive benefits FBA possessed, it was extremely difficult to build an audience as Amazon does not share customer data, and makes it very difficult to communicate with customers.
Additionally, I understood there were better margin opportunities shipping directly to consumers, and so I initially created a Squarespace shop, but then migrated over to Shopify as I found it a much more intuitive and effective e-commerce platform.
The initial “funding” was from the student loan disbursement I mentioned earlier, and I was able to reinvest the profits from subsequent sales back into the business in the form of more orders to my supplier. In the first year, we did a little over $65k in sales between Amazon and my own site.
About 7 months after launching, I decided to do a Kickstarter + Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to create “Swoveralls 2.0”, which had more color options, more functionality, and higher quality, sustainably made fabric. When a Kickstarter campaign is successfully funded, IndieGogo allows you to “roll over” the campaign on to their platform so you can keep accepting preorders, and acquiring more customers/awareness. I raised about $75k on Kickstarter, and another $33k on Indiegogo for about $108k in total crowdfunding sales.
Prior to these campaigns I moved production from overseas to Los Angeles to also capitalize on the “Made in the USA” aspect, as well as cut production lead times down, and, in theory, have a better line of communication with my supplier (who spoke English as their native language are were only a 3 hour time zone difference away).
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I’ve had a couple big events/milestones that have worked to attract customers, but the large majority of my website traffic and customers has been organic either through earned media (here’s the first article anyone ever wrote about us & here’s another one I received mainly due to my Birchbox job at the time), social (people see our posts and visit), or search (people googling sweatpant overalls and finding us).
This last channel is the main reason I started this whole project in the first place. I knew at least at the beginning I would not have to do a ton of heavy lifting to attract customers because no one was selling a product there was clearly demand for.
Crowdfunding was a perfect blend of customer acquisition and retention. I was fortunate to beat my goal within the first 24 hours of launching which created a little PR buzz. Additionally, one of my FB videos went viral during the campaign (9M+ views) which led to a huge influx in traffic/sales.
Important to note this viral moment was orchestrated and not organic. I worked with a company called Margle Media based out of Milwaukee to create a fun, engaging video based on existing video assets I had, and with their FB network relationships, they (for a fee) dropped the video on a page called “22 words” that had millions of followers.
The video spread like wildfire, and was a huge moment for my brand.
The Facebook Viral Video
I think crowdfunding also comprises retention characteristics as well because this is a special and loyal type of consumer. They’ve been with me since the beginning of Swoveralls 2.0, and were incredibly patient and understanding during the development delays. More importantly, the product came out awesome, and so at the end of the day, I think these people took a chance on me and my brand, and were rewarded with a high-quality product that they now love. For the risk they took on me, I’ll love these customers for life.
Retention in other aspects has been lacking for me. I’m very weird about email. As a brand, I know it’s arguably the best way to stay in touch with your customers, but as an individual, I can’t stand getting most brand emails. The two exceptions are Chubbies and Allbirds, and for different reasons, but both emails I open up almost every time. Chubbies voice and style is hysterical. Allbirds has beautiful imagery and stories. It’s also important to note both brands make really great products.
Chubbies and Allbirds are two brands I truly aspire to be like. I think they get it, and are a constant source of motivation and inspiration for me. In fact, I guess you could say I want The Great Fantastic to be the passionate love child of these two companies.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today is a very exciting time for my brand. On April 21st at 10pm EST my company will be featured on Shark Tank.
I was incredibly fortunate enough to have been introduced to one of the casting producers through a mutual friend, and was flown out and filmed my episode this past September. I can’t share what happened, but the awareness/exposure this moment will bring my company is hopefully going to be life-changing in the best way possible.
In prepping for my air date, I’ve spoken to a bunch of brands who have been on, and based on their feedback and experience, I’m trying to stay focused on the long-term as this will be an amazing moment, but will not define my brand or product in the long road. It’s definitely a marathon.
Speaking of the long road, I’m working on an 18-24 month plan right now, which is about as far out as I’m willing to plan. It doesn’t make sense to spend too much time thinking about year 3 or 4. It’s nice to have overarching goals (ie Hit $20MM in sales in 5 years!), but from a tactical standpoint so much can change that I’m trying to keep a more fluid/agile approach.
That said, my main priorities for the next 6 months are to relaunch my Amazon channel (which has been dormant due to lack of inventory), create Swoveralls Shorts, and also develop a limited edition collection where we come out with awesome colors and patterns that are designed/chosen by my customers in an interactive crowdsourcing experience.
In the short term, I’m not focused on creating new products other than Swoveralls because I’ve become the “authority” in the onesie comfy space, and I believe aside from shorts and limited colors/patterns, Swoveralls has some legs within other customer segments such as: youth/infant, plus-size/maternity, and the collegiate/pro market (licensing/logos, etc).
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One thing I’ve heard a few entrepreneurs say recently is how “stupid” they were at the beginning based on the assumptions or risks they made.
Fail early and fail often. I didn’t get into Business school the first time I applied. My first Kickstarter campaign didn’t reach its goal. My second crowdfunding campaign was late being delivered to customers by 3 months.
It’s a funny statement to me because 1.) I can relate 100% (see: $10k → supplier) but 2.) It’s paradoxical in the sense that these seemingly less intelligent decisions were also instrumental to the success experienced later on.
Very very few people can maintain the same risk aversion as their company grows, and it’s probably not the right thing to do regardless. I don’t think I’m one of these people, but I think Elon Musk is. On Day 2 of your company’s existence, “risking it all” is a completely different conversation than on Year 2. I guess I’ve learned how the luck I’ve had is something I need to be mindful of when assessing future opportunities.
The bell curve of most products and companies is inevitable because at some point the change engine runs out of fuel. This is something I think about often, and how I can continue being “stupid” in a smart way 🙂
Another thing I think about a lot is hedging my bets. A lot of the mistakes and tough times my brand has had so far is because I wasn’t hedging appropriately. There’s a great Ted Talk by a dude name Alex Wissner-Gross where he talks about this equation he created for intelligence. My high level takeaway from the video is that intelligence = creating the most opportunities for yourself.
I think I was being intelligent when I bootstrapped my company while still working full-time and getting my MBA at NYU. This provided me with a stable income + a network of business people I could potentially leverage (and I did, bigtime). I wasn’t being intelligent when I agreed to partner with one manufacturing company, and did not have any other discussions or existing suppliers in the works.
When I found out the products being produced were going to cost me 40% over my budget, and end up being months late…I was trapped. It’s probably impossible or inefficient to hedge at every step along the way, but one of the ways I’m able to protect myself is constantly meet new people, constantly “initiating dialogues”, constantly “staying in touch”, so that my safety web expands exponentially as your company grows.
In that vein of thinking, I think it’s advantageous for entrepreneurs to keep putting themselves out there from a networking/resource standpoint. Keep meeting people, keep reading blogs, keep taking classes. It never stops.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Ecommerce: Shopify and Amazon FBA
- Data capture: Company called Privy. I was using a company called Wheelio, but switched to Privy due to integration preferences
- Email: Was MailChimp, but since their recent/upcoming breakup with Shopify, I’ve moved to a company called retention science
- Google Analytics: I don’t look at this stuff nearly enough but it’s a treasure trove of data
- DTC fulfillment: EasyPost. amazing fulfillment provider for my shopify related orders
- Social Media: Instagram is my #1 social handle, but everything I post on IG is auto-fed to FB and Twitter
- Finance: Quickbooks. Just started using this, everything was excel based before….and my company is now getting a little too big/complex for that type of manual tracking. Quickbooks is a pain in the ass to set up initially, but it can save you so much time down the road.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I look at these more like tools than books in the sense that they’re all things you can go back and reference vs. a one-and-done novel.
Get Backed is a must read for anyone looking to raise money, but even if you’re not looking for investors today, the act of creating an investor deck is the new business model, and can help an entrepreneur really understand what they’re doing, where they’re trying to go, and how they need to get there.
Traction is another book that is very objective with specific channels you should be considering when it comes to growth. It’s different for every company at every stage, and the channel that might’ve been futile 3 months ago could be a game changer today.
All Marketers and Tribes are two awesome reads by Seth Godin – he’s a great writer and does an awesome job of explaining why storytelling and your customers are so important in a really engaging way.
Recent podcast episodes that have excited me: Andy Dunn, Blake Mykoskie, Sarah Blakely all on How I Built This. Nick Kokonas on Tim Ferris. Matthew Walker on Joe Rogan.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
It’s so cliche but fail early and fail often. I didn’t get into Business school the first time I applied. My first Kickstarter campaign didn’t reach its goal. My second crowdfunding campaign was late being delivered to customers by 3 months.
Entrepreneurship is not a linear path, and the more comfortable you get with a 3D rollercoaster of emotions filled with ups and downs, the more battle-tested you’ll be as the stakes and risks get bigger.
It’s similar to scar tissue – at first a cut hurts like hell, and while the wound heals and you’ll soon forget the pain…the best part is that you’re stronger now than you were before that experience.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m passively looking for someone to help me from a product development position as this is a big blind spot for me. Not only do I not really like the whole process, but it’s not something I have a ton of experience in.
To use the blueprint/house analogy again – I want to be the real estate agent who tells the story about the house and works directly with the customers. I need someone who is really passionate and knowledgeable about materials and prototyping apparel items. In other words, I need an architect to help me build a kick-ass place that people want to come live at 🙂
Where can we go to learn more?
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