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Like many entrepreneurial stories, OLIVERS begins with a product its founder couldn’t find in stores. David Wolfe wanted athletic apparel that was also stylish, the kind of clothes 20-to-40-year-old men would want to wear. While J. Crew had an aesthetic Wolfe appreciated, the style and cuts of a contemporary men’s brand like that didn’t work for athletic apparel. Patagonia, Wolfe’s favorite outerwear brand, didn’t speak to the urban, athletic consumer either.
So was born the idea for OLIVERS – contemporary men’s athletic apparel for the urban, stylish customer, explains Wolfe.
“There are a lot of men’s athletic apparel brands out there,” he says, “but they all offer similar products and experiences – ones that cater to a 21-year-old more than a 32-year-old.”
In April 2013, Wolfe started evaluating his preliminary idea and sketching out a potential path to market. Over the next five months, he connected with people in the San Francisco apparel industry, including designers, pattern-makers, and manufacturers, to map out a go-to-market strategy. “We moved really quickly,” he says.
Coming up shorts
By the end of those few months, Wolfe had a product prototype in-hand. Unlike most clothing brands, Wolfe wanted OLIVERS to launch with a single product. Typically, apparel companies launch with a collection, so by featuring only one product – men’s shorts – OLIVERS was hoping its focus would help the company and the clothes stand out.
After deciding that shorts would be the jumping off point for the OLIVERS collection, Wolfe got to work designing what had been missing in the marketplace. OLIVERS’ shorts were cut with a slimmer fit, made with high-quality water-repellant fabric, and ballistic mesh pocketing, none of which were found in typical athletic shorts.
Market testing through crowdfunding
Wolfe didn’t approach banks, venture capitalists, or friends for advising or dollars when launching OLIVERS. He wanted market feedback before going all in. “I liked the idea of testing the concept in the market in a cost-effective manner,” he says. “The market could tell us what they thought while also allowing us to sell them” to generate revenue.
In selecting a crowdfunding platform, Wolfe narrowed the list to Kickstarter and Indiegogo and ended up choosing Kickstarter because, “we felt their core customer [20-40-year-old males] would be more receptive to our brand.”
The fact that Kickstarter does not hand over the capital raised unless the company meets its goal “was not a big concern,” says Wolfe, perhaps because their initial target was only $10,000, and because much of the value of the campaign was in the market feedback.
To boost their odds of success, the OLIVERS team turned to their existing network of friends and family. “We became active on social media, to get our networks excited ahead of time; got other companies to take part in the campaign; and got press from reaching out to the media,” explains Wolfe. It worked. OLIVERS exceeded its initial $10,000 in a big way, hitting $271,043 with 3,307 backers during the 30-day campaign.
So would Wolfe do anything differently the next time around? Although he has no regrets about the crowdfunding campaign and would use Kickstarter again, Wolfe says he would pad the delivery date, since the first production run of the shorts took longer than expected due to unexpected demand for the product. “It was a good problem, but a problem nonetheless,” explains Wolfe.
In fact, OLIVERS did launch a second campaign on Kickstarter, for a sport boxer, which went very well, raising $55,411 against its $10,000 goal. While Wolfe says OLIVERS does not plan to launch any more Kickstarter campaigns at this time, the lessons learned are helping inform plans to introduce two more products–he won’t disclose what they are–by year-end 2015.