How We Built Huckberry
Nine years ago, Rich and I were freezing our butts off on a rickety chairlift on the backside of Squaw Valley when we decided to go for it.
Looking back, we were far too naïve to know exactly what it was, but we definitely knew what it wasn’t—cranking out spreadsheets for 90 hours each week for the rest of our lives. Still, gaining the courage to leave our safe, lucrative jobs wasn’t easy. As Jerry Seinfeld might say, it was like tipping a vending machine—you don’t just push it over, you have to rock it back and forth a few times.
Having discussed our idea over countless beers after work, we knew in our bones that Huckberry needed to exist. There were men’s stores, sure. Adventure magazines, too. Yet nothing out there spoke directly to us—25-year-old guys who lived in the city but lived for adventure—and we envisioned a brand that was equal parts store, magazine, and inspiration.
So in the summer of 2010, we left our jobs, invested $10,000 each from our savings to form Huckberry LLC, and set out to scratch our own itch. And the rest, as they say, is our history.
Now It’s Your Turn
We’ve skied volcanoes in the southern hemisphere and explored Kauai with Kelly Slater, but the most fun and rewarding adventure of our life has been founding and leading Huckberry. Today, nothing gets us more fired up than helping other entrepreneurs take the leap to start a company, so we want to share some of the hard-won lessons we’ve learned along the way. Here’s hoping our story inspires a new adventure of your own.
1. Entrepreneurs Aren’t Born, They’re Made
Rich is going to roll his eyes when he reads this, but starting a company reminds me of the advice I once got from a yoga teacher in Thailand who said that to perform the next move we’d need “strength, technique, but above all else, courage” to pull it off. I think it’s the same thing with entrepreneurship: one of the hardest parts is summoning up the courage to take the leap, but after that you figure it out along the way. Prior to starting Huckberry, Rich and I didn’t have any retail experience nor did we have a deep entrepreneurial network we could turn to for advice. What we did have was endless energy and a passion for our mission of inspiring adventures near and far, and that powered an education in entrepreneurship you can’t learn in business school.
The team goes white-water rafting on the annual Huckberry vacation.
2. Burn the Boats on the Beach
You play differently when you go all in and have everything to lose. For us, that moment occurred on a ski lift in Squaw Valley when we made a pact to quit our jobs. Things were different after that: we suddenly had no source of income and had to walk the walk after lots of talk. To this day, we still love playing with our backs against the wall, as we’ve turned down a lot of money for a small percentage of our shares—multiple times.
The Huckberry team visits Casco Bay for the Fall 2017 Catalog.
3. Get Scrappy
Raising VC was never on the table for us, so we started Huckberry with our savings. We couldn’t afford to hire anyone, so we picked up Dummies For Photoshop, Coding, Retail—you name it—and started hustling out of our tiny San Francisco apartments. That scrappy mentality allowed us to scale to Huckberry to tens of millions in revenue before we raised our first dollar of outside capital. Since we’ve practically performed every role in the company ourselves, I like to think we’re able to see “The Matrix” of eCommerce.
4. Everyone Has a Plan Until They Get Punched in the Face
Our original plan was to sell adventure travel experiences along with the gear you needed for each adventure. I say “original,” because one week before launch we learned that our payment processor wouldn’t handle travel transactions unless we forked over a $250k deposit. We obviously didn’t have the cash so we quickly (and painfully) changed our strategy to only launch with the gear part. Mike Tyson had it right: despite our master plan, we all inevitably get knocked down to the mat and find ourselves fumbling for our mouthpiece. It’s that next moment that defines you. How do you respond? How do you improvise?
Huckberry celebrates new team values with breakfast in the office.
5. You Always Throw Out Your First Pancake
Launching a new venture is hard—after hours upon hours of hard work, it’s now time to set your baby free. But this is when you feel most exposed, and so it’s only natural to feel the need to keep perfecting the product or experience. The only problem is there’s only one person who’s opinion truly counts (sorry, mom), and that’s your customer who will be voting with their wallet. Don’t let progress get derailed by perfection. Ship quickly, learn from customer feedback, and iterate.
6. Get Weird
A successful business strategy creates value for its customers and can be executed uniquely, consistently, and profitability. In the beginning—when you have no idea what you’re doing—it’s easy to forget the “uniquely” part and turn to your competition for inspiration. Don’t do that. Zig where your competition zags: Get creative to wow your customer. Work little moments of delight into your products and customer experience. Do things that don’t scale—like sending select people who write in to customer service a pizza and a six-pack just for the hell of it.
You’ve heard our story, now we want to hear yours.
Are you working on a start-up or thinking of starting one? Email [email protected] with a three-to-four-sentence pitch of your start-up or idea and where you could use some feedback. Rich and I will pick two of our favorite submissions and will make ourselves available for two phone call sessions with each winner where we’ll dive deep into tactics. We’ll also hook each winner up with a year subscription of our favorite project management tool, Basecamp, plus $500 in Huckberry credit, of course. And because we’re entrepreneurs, after all, you must be signed up to receive the Huckberry newsletter to be eligible to win.
See you out there.
— Richard and Andy
>>Next: The Huckberry Origin Story