Founder Stories

How Bower Collective went from zero to £130k in their first six months

Founder Stories

How Bower Collective went from zero to £130k in their first six months

Words Nick Torday

In collaboration with Damian Routley, Emily Yoon & Timothy Masek

August 31st 2020 / 8 min read

Co-founder Nick Torday talks us through how Bower Collective launched in January 2020 in Founders Factory's Venture Studio and then scaled through our Startup Accelerator, generating 130k+ revenue in just six months and raising a £400k round - even as the pandemic threatened to disrupt their crucial supply chains.

We first heard about Founders Factory’s joint venture with Reckitt Benckiser through a mutual business contact and it struck us as the perfect opportunity for our business. We were in advanced conversations with other investors but Founders Factory made a compelling case for us to join their Venture Studio in London, and we felt motivated and supported from the off. We were already close to launching, but the Founders Factory team ensured that we accelerated through beta testing and into launch with real momentum and clarity of execution.

My co-founder Marcus and I come from a b2b background. Marcus was the former Founder and CEO of a sustainable packaging business that sold to Bunzl plc. I was running a consulting business where winning clients is much more about building networks, lead generation, and events marketing. That’s very different from the data-driven mechanics of direct to consumer growth marketing.

Our first few weeks …

We already had a pretty good sense of our audience but we spent the first few weeks of the programme articulating that more clearly. This helped to define Bower Collective’s purpose and proposition, which fed into all of our messaging as well as our go-to-market plan.

We were just going to put up a holding page initially until the product was ready, but the Growth team encouraged us to build a waiting list to generate excitement around the brand. Together, we used a platform called KickoffLabs, and with a little social budget, we were able to generate a waiting list of over 1,500 potential customers, which was way beyond what we had anticipated.

Customers signed up to be the first to hear when we were launching and were encouraged to recommend us to a friend for a money-off incentive. While we were able to drive sign-ups from day one, we realised quite quickly that the money-off incentive didn’t land strongly enough with customers; they didn’t yet appreciate what it was they were getting a discount on. We switched the incentive to focus on product giveaways and this drastically increased the referral rate.

Building our early community

By building a waiting list we were able to nurture a closed community of early adopters who we could communicate with regularly. They were happy to have ‘early access’ in exchange for being beta testers and providing feedback. This meant we could launch reassured that operations were working correctly and any teething pains had been sorted. Plus, we could learn as much as possible from them to inform our launch plan.

Our customers are actively working towards building a more sustainable home; they want to learn how to do this better, but also feel like they are contributing to what we are doing as a brand. Knowing this, we decided to launch a closed product community group on Facebook for our most engaged or loyal customers.

As well as being a place to discuss sustainability in general, we regularly publish polls and questions to the group to gauge what we should launch, or how to improve our design. It’s a great place to quickly gather feedback amongst a bigger group, and in the early days, it gave us the opportunity to sense check some ideas before launching them. Keeping the group closed is an important way to make these conversations feel exclusive.

“We were able to nurture a closed community of early adopters who we communicated with regularly. They were happy to have ‘early access’ in exchange for being beta testers and providing feedback.”

Time to launch

We focussed our early launch efforts on Facebook and Instagram. Thanks to a solid testing plan, and leveraging customer reviews and later external social proof (PR) within our ad creative, we were able to bring down our Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) by 66% from January to March, to a place that ensured our Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) was significantly positive (above 250%).

Google AdWords is highly competitive for keywords like laundry detergent, so we initially focused on Google Shopping where popular brand searches could be better targeted. A/B testing of both audience and creative offered early insights for refinements.

While paid-for advertising was predictable and could deliver conversions quickly, we also wanted to build awareness of Bower Collective as a sustainable lifestyle brand, so we turned some of our attention to Influencer Marketing and PR.

By communicating our mission when liaising with influencers and the press (combined with a little persistence), we were able to secure coverage in the likes of The Independent, The Times, Country Living, Hello Magazine, and we were featured on ITV's This Morning.

Lesson from the founder: How to reach out to Influencers

  1. Invest time in looking for people who resonate with your brand values. A lot of effort went into looking for small and medium-sized influencers (between 10k-100k followers), who were already committed to and talking about sustainability. We searched by hashtags on Instagram (e.g. #zerowaste) and took inspiration from other sustainability accounts and complementary brands to see the type of influencers following them. Many of the influencers we reached out to in the first round said yes because they believed in our mission and really wanted to try the product.

  2. Personalise each message you send out. Nobody wants to receive a templated message. Take the time to learn about the person you’re reaching out to, find something personal to include, and sign off as a person, not your brand.

  3. Have a plan. Have an idea of the campaign you want to run and how the partnership may progress in the longer term, but be prepared to be flexible and listen to what the influencer wants.

It’s always harder at the beginning. Influencers support each other and tend to group in small circles, so we saw that once we started working with one or two fantastic people on Instagram, we saw increased interest from others.

Test, learn, and test again

We spoke to our customers at every opportunity. In the first 1-2 months after a purchase was made, we would ask customers if they would mind having a call with us to gather some feedback. I would then personally call and speak to them, and this insight was invaluable. We are also incredibly responsive to messages via customer service and still use it as a learning resource to find out how we can improve and what products to launch next.

Working with Founders Factory's Product and Design team, we combined these qualitative insights with data from Google Analytics to make incremental changes to our shopping experience. The simple addition of a graphics-led four-step explainer (pictured below), for example, helped users better understand our reuse and refill proposition, which improved our website conversion rate. For something so simple, we didn’t expect it to have such a material impact. Coupled with small, but quick-to-execute tweaks here and there, we managed to increase conversion rate by 392% within three months.

Another area we spent some time testing was customer referrals. Founders Factory proposed a couple of referral tools for us to use and we went with Conjured Referrals. It’s low cost, simple integration with Shopify, and ability to customise the design and referral channels made it a great choice for us. We’re finding ‘money off’ incentives to work quite well currently (versus a % discount), but we have plenty of room for further optimisation to our messaging, incentives and referral journey.

Bower Collective Referral Program

You have to be all over the data. The aggregation and analysis of data for a direct to consumer business is its lifeblood.

"It was Founders Factory’s virtual Investor Showcase in early May that really moved the needle for us. We secured a lot of money off the back of that session alone."

The Pitch Day

It was Founders Factory’s virtual Investor Showcase in early May that really moved the needle for us. The team thoroughly prepared us, helping to structure our narrative and tell our story to investors. Despite it being virtual, it was a huge success. We received a lot of interest and secured a lot of money off the back of that session alone.

We raised another round of funding soon after, again ably supported by the Founders Factory team. That's helped us get to where we are now.

Unlocking Founders Factory's 'Unfair Advantage'

80% of our lotion pump heads are manufactured in northern Italy, which was the epicentre of the European pandemic.

You could not, and in fact, you still can't get these lotion pumps for love nor money. There's been a global shortage of these pumps for the best part of four or five months now, which has been a nightmare.

Through Founders Factory, we have an executive sponsor at Reckitt Benckiser who was fantastic and really supportive. When things started getting difficult she immediately connected us with a whole global network of very experienced professionals. That was fantastic, giving us that “unfair advantage” to be able to access these resources when things got tough.

We also received weekly support from the Head of Surface Care and leveraged expertise regularly from their R&D teams, Washing Experts, Packaging Business Unit, and the Head of Sustainability.

Final Thoughts

Founders Factory has a huge number of startups that have been through their programme and are very well positioned to give cogent advice on do's and don'ts. It helped us move so much faster, we learned and grew as a business and brought new disciplines and methodologies to bear on what we do.

Our mantra as a business is that sustainability is a journey, not a destination. What’s sustainable today is not necessarily what’s sustainable in six months time. So you’ve got to be constantly innovating and iterating your business model to make sure that you're delivering the best possible outcome.

Nick and Marcus launched their business through our Venture Studio, and quickly joined our Accelerator program when they were ready to scale. If you're interested in joining one of our programs, submit an application here.

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