Bryan DeLuca is a name for people building brands in big corporations. He calls them “entrepreneurs”. He should know. After co-founding and subsequently selling a successful e-commerce business, DeLuca worked for a traditional retailer and created brands within the company.
“We sold our business in 2017,” he told me. “I then worked for a larger organization. We have built a couple of brands within this company. We’ve had some success. It takes an entrepreneur’s brain to be an entrepreneur. “
DeLuca and I have similar backgrounds. He started Foot Cardigan, an online sock retailer, in the same year as Beardbrand, my company. We both performed at Shark Tank.
In our last interview, we discussed these experiences and more, including DeLuca’s entrepreneurship. The entire audio version is embedded below. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: You and I go back to 2013, when I founded Beardbrand and you founded Foot Cardigan. That’s a cool name, a cardigan for your feet.
Bryan DeLuca: We tested three names A / B: Rad Foot, Spiffy Feet and Foot Cardigan. Rad Foot received zero interest. Spiffy Feet got 20 or 30 responses. Foot Cardigan received about 300.
One downside to the Foot Cardigan name is that it limits our ability to expand into other categories like t-shirts. In retrospect, I would not have included “Fuß” in the name.
Band wood: Beardbrand has the same problem. We can’t sell beyond men, and many men don’t have facial hair. But one reason we picked up speed early on is that name. Let’s change the subject and let’s talk about Shark Tank. You and I were both on that show.
DeLuca: It was my turn shortly after you. I had a great experience. It was the best and the worst that happened to our business at the same time.
It was best for exposure and marketing. That was great. But it was the worst because it gave us the wrong feeling about who our customers were. We’d previously spent two and a half years targeting a specific customer personality – disrespectful and funny.
According to Shark Tank, we had clients aged 3 to 93 years. Grandmothers signed up for our newsletter and then complained to ABC, the television network, that we were swearing in the emails. It was difficult to weed out these new customers.
But the experience of being on the show was great. We had four offers from the panelists. We have made a deal with two of them. It was very comfortable. Our on-air segment only lasted 12 minutes. But we were there for an hour and a half.
Band wood: I was only on the air for 8 minutes.
DeLuca: Early on the day moon John [a panelist] told us: “Relax. We like your business. You are receiving some offers today. Let’s just have casual conversations. ”So we knew there was interest and we would receive offers. But it was the most nerve wracking thing I’ve ever done.
One of my co-founders, Matt, was with me. He was more nervous than me.
Band wood: Did Mark Cuban make an offer?
DeLuca: Yes, we agreed to his deal, but it didn’t go through. But he was very gracious when it died with due care. A good percentage of the deals made on the show don’t get closed.
We had our reasons not to close and his team had theirs. It was a mutual agreement. We didn’t know if our segment would air. But when the time came, Mark sent me a congratulatory letter. So super friendly. The financial advisor we worked with helped us work out Mark’s offer.
I started the business with four others, i.e. five co-founders. We all had full-time jobs. We had wives, children, and our time was limited.
Band wood: Five co-founders. That is much.
DeLuca: We ended up reducing it to three. We had to share the burden. I was strong in certain areas and weak in others. Few entrepreneurs are good at everything. Entrepreneurs and founders who are aware of their shortcomings can do good.
My strengths are leading people, leading people, getting the best out of them. I have a lot of empathy. The combination of what people are naturally good at with what they want to do in life – then the magic happens.
Band wood: You sold Foot Cardigan. Do you regret?
DeLuca: No. Everything has it’s time. We sold our business to a private equity group in 2017. I stayed as CEO for about a year when I decided to leave. I am grateful that I was able to do this on my terms.
I then worked for a larger organization. We have built a couple of brands within this company. We have had some success. I did the same thing there that I loved at Foot Cardigan, building a team, developing products, creating something. I recently left this post too. Here we are in the summer of 2021. I spend time with my children and my family.
Band wood: Let’s talk about working for this company. I love entrepreneurship, but it’s not for everyone. There are other ways to lead a team, make a difference, and take care of your family. So the effect of work for a company can be worthwhile.
DeLuca: Secure. It’s a different kind of stimulation. It takes an entrepreneur’s brain to be an “entrepreneur”. For me it was very exciting, intoxicating at first. I had a free hand to start this business, an e-commerce division within a 20 year old traditional retail company. But like entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship also has advantages and disadvantages.
The pros are more resources – a finance team, an operations team, a sales team – that allow you to scale up quickly. The downsides are a lot of bureaucracy and legacy processes that are difficult to overcome.
An entrepreneur has to disrupt long-term internal processes – push a boulder up a hill. Success can depend on how determined an entrepreneur is. There is a lot of internal sales of ideas and ideals and processes and systems that have never existed before.
So yes, there are advantages and disadvantages. But here, too, there is a stimulation that is on a par with an entrepreneur.
Band wood: A great entrepreneur needs to be able to tell the company’s story over and over with the same energy. Why did you start What are you doing? An entrepreneur does the same thing, only you tell this story to the finance department.
How can listeners reach you?
DeLuca: I have nothing to promote. But I’m on Twitter, even though I don’t tweet often. I’m on LinkedIn too.