Episode 09
Bruvy—Co-Founder & CEO, Steadman Dinning

Welcome to the DTC Growth show.

Every episode we talk to founders and leaders at some of the most exciting DTC brands in the world. We discuss their vision, how they launched, and how they are growing their brand.

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In this episode, we talk to Steadman Dinning, CEO and Founder at Bruvy. They're bringing skincare to men with thoughtful products and guidance.

Instead of launching with one, Bruvy kicked off with two plant-based products—a cleanser and a moisturizer. Based on their research, those are the two products that men need to use.

Steadman and team spent a lot of time interviewing customers, and working with them to build the brand. They found that a lot of men are using three-in-one products, and other products that aren't good for them. There's a lack of education in the market about skincare for men, but Bruvy is looking to step in to provide guidance. They call it GUYDANCE—on-demand text with coaches and product advisors to help men take care of themselves.

Text is a great way to do this because it allows them to be very personalized with their advice and support. As they grow, they're going to work hard to keep this personal.

They started with 4 co-founders—two of them from Shopify, one from a CPG brand, and another from  advertising. It's been great to mesh their unique skillsets.

Launch day was good. They really focused on spending time with their customers leading up to the big day, so when it came there was a significant amount of word-of-mouth, which turned into a lot of organic traffic. To this day, it continues. They've been growing primarily without any paid advertising—incredible.

They're looking at the long view with Bruvy. Brands are built over time, and they know that. As long as they can operate profitably, they're focused on running marketing programs that really help build the brand—like popups, for example. They're bootstrapped, so they feel strongly about this approach.

If you haven't already, check out bruvy.com.

To learn more about the DTC Growth Show and #paid, visit hashtagpaid.com/dtc

Thank you for listening. This is the DTC Growth show.

Rather read? See the transcript below.

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Today, I'm talking with Steadman Dinning, who's the co-founder and CEO of Bruvy. Thanks for joining us, Steadman.

Steadman: Thanks for having me, Roger.

So, can you tell us a little bit about Bruvy?

Steadman: Yeah, definitely. So, Bruvy is a new men's wellness brand that combines daily essentials with text-based guidance to help guys take better care of themselves. 

We're starting with skin care. So, we have two products; a cleanser and a moisturizer. And all of our products are plant-based. They're made for all skin types and fragrance free.

When you launch, did you launch with one product or both right away?

Steadman: Yeah. So, we launched with both products. We really wanted it to be sort of this duo; this set. We were doing a lot of research really early on and that's actually how we started the company. It was just interviewing a lot of guys and wanting to get a better understanding of their routines. 

And through that process, we really realized that guys didn't have five step routines. A lot of them actually didn't even have to step routines. And so we wanted to kind of better understand, “Okay, what are the key fundamentals of men's skincare and how do we help guys throughout that process?” 

And so, we realized that a cleanser and a moisturizer was not only a really great way for guys to be introduced to taking better care of their skin, but also, too, for a majority of guys, those are the main two products that that they need. And so, that's what we launched with; just what we call the face cleanser and then the face moisturizer.

Let me read a tweet that you replied to recently. It goes like this. It says, 

“I'm interviewing men of a body lotion and it is honestly incredibly discouraging. What is wrong with some of you?” 

Why do you think this tweet had 10000 likes and why did you respond to it?

Steadman: Yeah. So, I thought that that was actually a really funny tweet and fairly representative of sort of where we’re at. I think there's a lot of guys right now that are in the process of wanting to take better care of themselves. But I think a lot of times, they don't necessarily know where to start. And so, because of that a lot of guys are using 3-in1 products or they're not necessarily using the products that are best for them. 

And a lot of that is just because they don't necessarily know who to turn to. And I think what's interesting about that tweet is it's not only guys that are liking the tweet, it's also females. I think a lot of guys turn to the females in their life for advice for that. 

And that was a big thing for us, was how do we feel that education gap? And so, that was something that we sort of responded to, but also to why I think there was a lot of engagement on it.

You are filling that education gap. You're providing men with guidance or what you call “guydance". And I'm going to spell that (G-U-Y-D-A-N-C-E) guydance

What is it and why is that important for your brand?

Steadman: Yeah. So, guydance actually really came through the process of building our products. I think we are seeing more brands now coming up with text-based services. A part of that, though, is just because it's sort of the new hot thing. 

For us, it really just came out of a true need from customers. So, we spent a year building our product. Throughout that time, we were working very closely with customers; doing interviews, having them test products. 

And what ended up happening was initially, it was us sort of in the washrooms with these guys and we would get questions when we were in there. Everything from as simple as, “Hey, is my face wet enough to use this product?” And we would say, “Yeah. No, that's great.” 

And then as we sort of continued to scale, we then started realizing that we were getting questions that were all coming through text and they were asking questions like, “Cool. So, I go to the gym in the morning. Can I use this product then or do I have to use it at night?” or “Hey, I have cystic acne and so I want to use your products; I really like your products. Do I need anything else that I need to use in addition to this?” or even things as simple as ingredients. 

So, for us, we really stand behind our ingredients. We have a cosmetic chemist that is on our advisory board and we took -- like that was something that we really emphasize. 

And so, we were getting text even saying, “Hey, I really believe in the ingredients that you guys use. Is there something else or are there other ingredients that I should be aware of or cautious of or even looking for in some other products?” 

And so, that was a big thing for us, was as we started realizing that these questions were coming in and there was a true need there, that we wanted to step in and provide that service. 

Texts just made sense for us because that's where it was coming from and we really wanted to be able to build that relationship there. But it was truly just something that came out of the need and realizing that one of the things that guys needed was great products, but the other was guidance and support throughout the process.

And you're doing a lot of this through text message. What do you think brands need to do to make text valuable so that consumers don't block that number?

Steadman: Yeah, and that's a really good question. I think. As we see more brands switch into text messaging or SMS, I think a lot of them are taking a true marketing approach, instead of a relationship building approach. 

And when they're doing that, they're sending a lot of text messages, whether that's daily, weekly, monthly, that don't necessarily have true value to the customer. And I think that's what leads to the blocking of the numbers or essentially just disengagement.

I think for us, it's really about how do we offer true value and how do we build the relationship there. So, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a text that’s going out every day and it's definitely not, “How do we send you a promotional code?” It's more about, “What are true needs that you have and how do we work with you?” 

So, something for us that we do is obviously upfront, we introduce ourselves, we try to build that relationship, build that rapport. But as we move through the relationship with them, it's more about then providing pro tips and things that are more on a one-to-one basis. 

I think that's what's interesting with text is that you can build that one-on-one relationship a lot easier and you're able to provide -- for us, it's more personalized advice in comparison to some other platforms.

With the inbound text messages or people texting in for advice, how are you planning to build the infrastructure so that you can scale as your consumer base grows?

Steadman: Yeah. So, for us, obviously, everything is one-on-one; it's human supported. And so, the way that we currently have been approaching it is there is also a certain amount of questions that people ask. So, whether that's on ingredients or whether that's on how to use the products. 

So, we currently are building actually a database. And so, we have an advisory board that we work with and we're able to essentially take all those questions, build them into a database of answers. 

Our goal, moving forward, is to still keep that personal, on a one-to-one. But it does allow us to potentially automate some initial simple questions and then push that into a support team as we continue to scale.

Very nice. You’ve spoken a bit about the team of advisers around you, specifically chemists and dermatologists. 

Tell us about their importance and how valuable they've been throughout the launch and the growth of this product.

Steadman: Yeah. So, we brought those advisers on, we brought a dermatologist on a little bit later stage, but we brought our cosmetic chemist on extremely early. And the reason for that was our co-founding team does not come from a cosmetic chemistry background and we really wanted everything to be based in science. 

So, while we were consumers ourselves of these products, we didn't necessarily know the fundamentals of formulations. And so, we brought them on extremely early and helping to ensure that we did build the best formulas. And so, that was something that we sort of stuck to, whether that was for ingredients or just like formulations themselves deciding, “Okay, what percentage of ingredients do we want in here?” “Should we be getting one ingredient from one location or one supplier versus another?” So, we worked very closely with them. 

And then also, too, on the education side, ensuring that everything that we're sharing with our customers in our community was scientific and fact checked as well, but really essentially starting from day one.

Tell me about that core group of people when you launched. What were they doing? What were they good at? What was their specialty?

Steadman: Yes. So, our team was -- we've been really lucky with our team. We decided to start with the team of four; four co-founders, all coming from fairly different backgrounds. Two of us did meet at Shopify. So, we come from the tech background. 

And at Shopify, we were working with a lot of fast growing consumer brands. And so, that was a really great learning lesson for us that we were able to apply at Bruvy. One of the other co-founders comes from a CBG background and then the other comes from an advertising background. 

So, it's been great for us to individually bring our own unique skill sets to the table and then for us also, too, to be able to sort of divide and conquer. As you know, with like small CBG brands, you have to be able to scale efficiently. 

And so for us, we've been able to bring everything in-house, essentially, outside of a couple of things. And so that's been really great for us.

If you were to look back at launch day, how did you feel going to bed on that day? Was it a good day, a bad day, a regular day? 

Tell me a little bit about what was going on through your mind as you put your head on the pillow.

Steadman: So, for us, I think, I mean, I was extremely happy. You never really know on lunch day how things are going to go. When I was at Shopify, I was working with brands that were a little bit larger, more on the plus side. And so, when they were doing their individual launches, we were seeing them where they already had some initial traction. 

For us, we weren't really sure necessarily how some of the initial pieces were going to go when it came to launch and in the traction that we were going to get. 

And so, what ended up happening was it did go extremely well. And that was awesome for us. And so, we definitely celebrated that as a team. And things did go really smoothly. I think for us, we were definitely sprinting, trying to get to launch. And I think that's how a lot of teams approach it; it's just sort of, “Let's get there. Let’s get there. Let’s get there.” 

And then once you're actually there, ultimately, that is the beginning of the race. And so, for us, we felt that that was a really good start and something that we just wanted to, from there, continue to build off. 

What went really well on launch day, what are you very proud of and you'd repeat the same way you did it?

Steadman: Yes. So, for us, I think there was a lot of initial just sort of organic traffic that we got. And really a big part of that was working with a group of guys from day one. So, we had a year's worth of guys that we were working with very closely in order to actually build these products, which I think is a little bit different than other brands that sort of build in a vacuum. 

For us, we really needed that feedback. And a big thing for us the whole time was how do we build a product that works for all guys and for all skin types? And so, we needed to test on a lot of different guys and include them in the process. 

So, because of that, we then had a lot of organic traffic that was coming on day one. And so, I think that was something that that we did really well and something that we continue to sort of build up today of how do we grow and more organic channels and comparison to just heavily relying on unpaid advertising.

What were some of the best organic channels? How did you build up to get all that traffic and how are you doing that today?

Steadman: Yeah. So, honestly, I think just sort of when you start, is, “I'm going to start with some of that's close to me. Can you introduce me to someone else?” and that sort of spirals. 

Today, we're actually looking at more even things like Direct DMs. So, going into people's direct messages and saying, “Hey, we notice this pose that highly aligns with what we believe as a team. I think this is something that you'd be interested in. And here's a 10 percent off discount code or something in order for you to try for the first time.” 

And so that's something that we're really exploring with. I think it's not necessarily something that's scalable long term, but in the short term is a way that you can efficiently grow. And again, as I mentioned before, with the team of four, it's important for us to do things that don't necessarily scale, but are more about manpower in comparison to just paid acquisition channels.

How are you guys thinking about the paid channels?

Steadman: So, I think something that we want to continue to explore is paid. We have been in this -- Right now we're actually really heavily looking into influencers and what those look like for the brand, really building people that how they align with us and our values.

I think what's interesting for us is our audience isn't necessarily just males. And so, we even though it is a male product. So, looking at December sales as an example, we're seeing actually a majority of buyers that are female purchasing on behalf of their males. 

And that was something that we knew that was going to be interesting coming in, even just from when our initial interviews, but also the research that we were doing on the market was for a lot of these guys, especially ones that are starting off, it's the females in their lives that makes the initial purchase. So, a mom, a sister, a girlfriend that are purchasing on their behalf and then they make the secondary purchase for themselves. 

And so, that's something that we have to continue to develop as we go through paid is we're not necessarily just looking at, “Who is this guy and where does he live? But also to who is the influencer?” in a lot of cases, for us, that's the female and where do they live? 

And so, it's a little bit more spread out as an audience set. And so for us, that's what we're really digging into now is, “Where do some of the most influential influencers live and who influences them?” So, it's something that we're continuing to explore. And for us right now, we're just kind of doing more micro tests and then we'll continue to scale that moving forward.

You've also recently launched the pop up, and I think that happened in December. Why do you think that was important?

Steadman: Yes. So, we did that really early, I think, in comparison to some other brands. That was important for us just to be able to allow people to experience the brand in person and be able to have more one on one conversations. 

And so, as we mentioned before, for us, the big thing is, “How do we continuously talk to customers?” We did that starting on day one. Being able to do that with larger groups of people is important. And also, being able to take that off line is important. 

And so, a big thing for us moving forward is also just, “How do we do more offline events?” Doing a pop was a good first way for us to test that. And also in a way that can potentially drive revenue for us. 

And then also, too, just really looking at, when you're looking at Facebook or Instagram, you can test messaging at scale, but you don't necessarily get to see direct one-on-one feedback even from things like facial expressions.

And so, that was really interesting for us, was kind of saying, “Okay, let's test a bunch of different messaging in these conversations and see what resonates and what doesn't, so that when we are going into other pay channels, we can do that.” And then also, too, just even things related to guidance. 

So, we are able to better understand what messaging hits for someone, pre-purchase or guidance. And so, we know that it offers a lot of value post-purchase for a customer, but something that we wanted to better understand was, “How does the communication of that work and what messaging hits properly?” And so, that was something that was also important. And so, that's sort of why we wanted to do it extremely early.

Live events are so key to learning about your customers; there’s probably no faster way. You can have so many conversations in such a short period of time; that's incredibly smart. 

How are you measuring success for that pop up?

Steadman: Yeah. So, we will look at it in a couple of different ways. From a revenue standpoint, we’re really focusing on, “Can we break even on this? And if we can, then what are sort of the conversations that we can have?” And then, “Is it able to build brand for us?” 

I think there's a lot of companies that are a little bit more short-term focused. Right now, for us, it's a longer-term approach. We're currently bootstrapped and so, we have the ability to look a little bit longer term and say, “Okay, as long as we're operating profitably, can we build strong brand and build strong relationships with customers that will pay off in the future for us?” 

Not necessarily in the way of, “Are we acquiring those customers profitably?” That's something that we need to do from day one. But, “Can we focus on the relationship so that that is longer term for us in comparison to, “Okay. Awesome. We don't really know who this person is. We're just going to acquire them and hopefully they come back in the future.” We've been really taking that longer-term play. So, that's really why we wanted to put emphasis there.

You mentioned it a little bit. But how does fundraising change your approach to branding and marketing into growing?

Steadman: Yeah, I think that honestly is really different for every company. So, I can't necessarily speak to some other ones. It's something that we’re like potentially looking at moving forward in the future, but for right now, it's something that we really wanted to understand the unit economics of our customers and how we can acquire them profitably and build that longer-term relationship and brand. And then for us, maybe it will make sense moving forward at some point to look at, “How do we scale that?” 

I think it's not necessarily -- I think some people are looking at it from a winner-takes-all race. I think we're looking at some of the true legacy brands that we all use on a daily basis. Those brands are built over a long period of time. And some of them were built out of sort of the bathrooms or the washrooms and their garages and scaled slowly. 

So, I think we have been in this for the last few years. You've been seeing a lot of brands that have taken on a lot of capital, scaled really quickly, which is awesome, but I think it also just depends on what type of game you're playing. 

For us, it's more about a longer-term approach. And so, it's something that we’ll most likely explore in the future, but it's not something that we're thinking about right now.

I kind to look at your packaging and labeling and you've put a lot of thought into it. Can you walk us through how you're thinking about that part of the business?

Steadman: Yeah, definitely. So, that was something that actually took us quite a while to get right. Not only from the labeling standpoint of what we wanted on there, but even just from the packaging itself. 

So, when we're looking at a lot of men's cosmetic brand, especially in skincare, a lot of them are coming in tubes. And when we were originally interviewing guys, we were kind of saying, “What do you think of packaging?” And something that was coming up was just sort of either underused or overuse and just kind of joking around with guys not really understanding, “What is a dime size? What is a nickel size? What is a quarter size?” 

And so, for us, it was important to say, “Okay, how do we make sure that guys are using the proper amount on a daily basis?” And so, we decided to go with pumps. Part of that was also in necessity, just based on the quality of ingredients that we have, needing to make sure that that they're in airless packaging. 

But a big part of that was honestly just because we wanted to be able to portion control and be able to walk through with guys and say, “Okay, this is one pump the cleanser and then one pump on the moisturizer.” 

And then it also allowed us to even control how those things are operating together. So, it is actually just one pump of the cleanser, one pump of the moisturizer, and those will actually last you for the same amount of time.

And so, we portion control that over a period of time. We don't currently do subscriptions, but it's something that we are interested in potentially moving forward. And so, we wanted to be able to better understand, “Okay, if a guy is washing his face morning and night, then this is how frequently they're going to need to repurchase.” 

I think that's a lot more difficult when someone's using a tube and portion control isn't necessarily there. And I think that that's for the benefit of the brand and also for the benefit of the user. So, that was something that we did heavily focus on. 

And then the other, too, is even just the way that we are approaching shipping. So, our boxes are all recyclable; its soy-based things that are used in our boxes. And then actually our packaging that is within our boxes that holds our products is all biodegradable. So, you can actually either just throw it in the compost or you can run it under hot water. 

And so, that was something that we thought that was really cool and also just played into more of a sustainable approach; it's something that we'll continue to explore moving forward and have an impact on that side. 

But in the short term was, “What decisions can we make that not only benefits our customer, but then also benefits the environment as a whole?” 

Of the things you've mentioned, as it relates to the experience of your of your product, what do you think are the hardest for an established brand to reproduce?

Yeah, that's a really good question. I think, for us, it was definitely about experience and whether that was how something looks or feels or how it comes out of the tube. I think because we're at a smaller scale and we make everything ourselves (We have a manufacturer that we work really closely with who does really small batch runs) we’re able to control all of that. And we're able to work extremely nimbly to make those changes on the fly. 

Not necessarily to formulations, because those do need to go through stability testing and other testing methods. But as far as the actual experience and what we're putting in, even from an insert standpoint, we're changing those and we're continuing to work with the customers it involves. 

I think when customers when larger, more established brands have the supply chains that they do, it's a little more difficult to make those adjustments on the fly. 

And I also don't think that they have the same data that that we do. That was something that was really important for us was, “How do we know who this customer is and how do we know what's important to them and make those adjustments as we go?” Because I think it's great to talk to some initial customers and everything when you're first launching, but as soon as you hit the go button, you don't necessarily want to be stuck in that way. You want to be able to make adjustments and really sort of learn on the fly. 

And so, I think that's something that we've focused on, especially having a majority of things in-house. And I think that's a little bit more difficult for some established brands. 

And I also think, too, just the buyers that they're different. We've, just in the last little bit, have been having some initial retail conversations. And I think what that really allows you to learn is the buyer for a larger established consumer-packaged good brand is the retailer; it’s not necessarily you. 

And so, if we're looking at -- we'll just use Clinique as an example, they have 16 different moisturizers for men alone. So, for us, and I think that's partially because they do touch a large array of guys, but also the buyer is a little bit different than for us, which is direct-to-consumer. 

So, that I think and sort of building the way that we have has allowed us to stay more nimble and focus on them directly.

A big part of experience is the visual identity of a brand. And I'd like to ask you about it, because yours is beautiful. 

How are you thinking about that aspect of the brand?

Steadman: Yes, we spent a lot of time there. We actually did -- over the year, what that allowed us to do, a lot of it was obviously building a product, but also allowed us to iterate on brand and brand colors, packaging everything the way that we were presenting the brand. 

And we're really fortunate. One of the co-founders on our team is a graphic designer. And so, he did some incredible work there. But also, too, a lot of iterations. I think we spent a lot of time bringing those designs to customers. We talked about them internally. 

And so his past experience with packaging and design really, really helped that and he did an incredible job there. I'm really thankful for it, for his skill set on that side. 

But then also, too, really just working with customers and saying, “Okay, what are some things that you want? Are there certain call outs? Does this visual identity align with you as a buyer?” and then making those adjustments based on their feedback.

And you've got something coming up soon called Wake Up. Can you give us a preview of what that is?

Steadman: Yeah, definitely. So, I think there's a big push for us, as we're saying before, around education right now; a lot of that is post-purchase. And on pre-purchase, we want to still be able to educate customers.

So, while the use of the product and the ingredients and some of those things are really important, part of the ways that we're passing along that information and educating those guys is through content. And so, we want to place for that to be able to live. 

And so, that's really what the Wake Up is. We want to be able to do things like interview guys. We want to be able to interview people in the scientific community. We want to be able to pass this information along. And so, we are going to be in the future, launching the Wake Up, which is an area for all this content to live, and an area where guys can go and really learn, but also in a way that's not sort of forceful and boring, from education standpoint, but more enjoyable and things that align with who our guy actually is.

How were you thinking about future distribution? Would you ever partner with the retailer? Are you thinking of doing this yourself? How what's your approach to that? How are you thinking about that?

Steadman: Definitely. So, I think in the future, retail is something that we do want to explore; I think it's a really important channel, especially looking at how our guy buys. In Canada, they're definitely going into Shoppers Drug Mart and in the US, Target is a big player. And where a lot of guys are going into look for things like razors or going in to buy toothbrushes, they’re going into by skincare. 

So, I think for us, we definitely need to be there; when we're at {indistinct 27:40} and a lot of things were -- we're talking about Omni channel; I think we hear that a lot and I do think that that's really important. So, it's something that we want to explore. 

I think the nice thing about guydance for us is that that's a channel that someone can still purchase to retail and we're able to still then build the relationship with them. And so, we don't necessarily want to approach it in the way of, “Awesome. Now we're in a retailer and we're never going to talk to you again.” It's more of a distribution channel that allows us to reach more guys at scale, but then build those relationships through as a mass post-purchase. 

And so, it's really something that that we're exploring. We've started looking into it now and probably over the next 12 to 24 months, we'll dive a lot deeper into.

What's the most painful business decision you've had to make so far at Bruvy?

Steadman: So, I think one that really jumps out to me is near the end of making our products, we were deciding between fragrance-free and adding in essentially a peppermint scent. And I think that was difficult because when you're talking to customers, you're obviously going to get a lot of feedback in both directions. And we had multiple samples that were going out testing with a large group of guys, and it was fairly split. 

And a big part of that is that guys are used to having sense in their in their products, and so moving away from that was sort of pushing back against the traditional men's brands that we've seen. 

Ultimately, what we realized and something that we try and stick to is the science side. And so, having fragrance in products can be irritating, especially for people with sensitive skin. And so, because we wanted it to be for all skin types, it was a decision that we thought was best for the customer. And so, it's something that we decided to move forward with, but it is something that, even today, we continue to think about and does keep me up sometimes, just as far as was at the right decision. 

But ultimately, based on our approach to skin care and the way that we want to show up in the world for our consumer and our guy, that was something that we decided to go with. And I think hopefully it was the best decision.

And finally, Steadman, can you tell us what Bruvy means and what you're aiming to do?

Steadman: Yeah. So, Bruvy really comes from brother. And so, we're trying to be cool, older brother that guys wish they had; that’s sort of what we say internally. 

And a big part of that is we think that guys grew up being taught a lot of the simple basics; so how to shave, brush your teeth, wash your hair. With that, though, they weren't necessarily taught about skincare. And I think that's because there is a changing. We are seeing a shift and an evolution in men's grooming. 

And so, we're really focusing on, “How do we help educate guys? How to make them feel confident, taking better care of themselves?” And so, right now, we're really focusing on skincare. As we build out our advisory board into other areas, there are other areas of wellness that we do want you to touch on. But for right now, it's skincare and really being that cool, older brother, providing advice and helping educate guys.

I love that. If you haven't already, go to bruvy.com. If you're listening and you're a man, don't be scared. That's bruvy.com (B-R-U-V-Y).com

Steadman, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Steadman: Thanks, Roger, really appreciate it. 

Thank you for listening. This is the DTC Growth Show by #paid.


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