One story in the archive of ACL that really sticks out to me was this piece on Goruck in 2010. I met the Goruck founders Jack Barley and Jason McCarthy through a mutual friend, it was obvious to me at the time that Goruck was going to be a hit – and it’s been a big one. (The GR1 is the flagship model and the bag you see most often, but my favorite Goruck product of all time is definitely the Kit Bag.) Along the way, I came to know Jason and Jack and I have a lot of respect for what they have done with the business and for who they are as people. Eventually, they decided to part ways so Jason can continue to grow Goruck and Jack could move out to Montana and work on a new project. In Bozeman Jack partnered up with Kevin Dee to create something new in EVERGOODS. The brand is different in direction and spirit than Goruck, but equally compelling. The idea for EVERGOODS is to create a bag that fits into every aspect of our active lives – from an outdoor adventure to the office– and move in-between those worlds seamlessly. Jack and Kevin must kinda know what they are doing, because just like Goruck, EVERGOODS has been a runaway success.
Prior to the launch of the brand Jack and I spoke a few times. He and Kevin knew what they wanted to do with the company, but he wanted to think a bit differently about how people would come to find EVERGOODS. Instead of hiding everything behind closed doors the EVERGOODS crew showed every step of the process –posting prototypes to Instagram and sharing everything. It was an approach reminiscent (and apparently inspired) by what Kuiu had done with great success. Eventually, they launched on Kickstarter and sold over $161,000 in a snap. I wasn’t surprised when I checked-in with the Kickstarter and saw that they were quickly over 100K in sales. I also wasn’t surprised when I got the Civic Panel Loader 24L and it turned out to be an amazing bag. It sort of reminds me of a Goruck x Arc’teryx hybrid. It’s sleek and super functional. The materials are good-looking and even though I’m not really a big backpack person, I found that it was the bag I kept pulling-out for trips.
As two new EVERGOODS pieces get launched I wanted to talk with Jack about how they built their brand, how made in the U.S.A. is changing and how being based in Montana has been a huge positive.
ACL: You guys pretty much exploded Kickstarter. Were you surprised at the response?
Jack Barley: We had a pretty good idea of the level of interest as a result of our newsletter following. We were, however, blown away that so much of our funding happened so quickly in the campaign.
KS campaigns are pretty straightforward. Your revenue can be sales you drove via existing following, newsletter, press and Facebook advertising. And then Sales that come from people who find you on KS via KS sorting algorithm. The breakdown often comes down to 75% what the brand drives via the above and 25% can from KS. The more you drive the larger the KS 25% will be.
These numbers held up for our campaign. Typically brands that make a million or more on KS spend a couple hundred grand on FB ads during the campaign. Evergoods actually spent zero dollars on ads. I would say if we did not spend a year and a half to build a following in advance we may have funded but we would not have nearly quadrupled our funding goal.
How did that launch strategy help EVERGOODS?
Before we envisioned using Kickstarter, my partner Kevin and I had actually gone after some investment capital. We had created a multi-year product schedule with some crazy number of SKU’s and would need the money to pay ourselves and then manufacture this level of product. After a couple meetings with a very interested party, there was a feeling between Kevin and myself that this was not the way forward that would allow us to control the future of EVERGOODS. So, we looked at what it would take to get 2 products ready and crowdfund the business. We both put up the money to rent, build-out, and operate our design facility for a year and a half working full-time with zero pay to get the first two bags ready for the campaign.
This forced us to be very picky about how we spent our money as well as gave us the ability to fully own the development process. To be honest, if we had not gotten the bags to a level they needed to be we would have delayed our July 11th launch date.
Launching this way also forced us to get creative in how we spread the word about what we were up to. I listened to a podcast in December 2016 chronicling how another guy (who had previously founded a successful hunting company) was starting a new brand with less than ideal capitol and he built a blog and was able to grow it to several thousand followers before his launch. I thought I can do that – the blog part anyhow – and the least that will come of it is that we will learn how to tell our story and solidify our vision for what we want EVERGOODS to be.
Were there downsides?
Hindsight is 20/20 and we are grateful we went this route. What it hurt was adding a toll on our personal lives. Rent and mortgagees and medical and food all still have to come. The financial hardship is real. Our wives were our biggest champions and we needed their support.
We talked a bit during your build phase before launching EVERGOODS. You took a slightly unconventional approach of building the brand with transparency on social media and a blog from early in the development phase. What was your thought process?
It is funny when you are forced to get creative you can often come up with something better than you imagined possible. In the beginning, I wanted the blog to be an inside look at what it takes to build a business or outdoor gear brand. All decisions are huge in the early stages and that made for some content that our reader most likely had not ever been privy to experiencing.
We are reimagining how and when we will post our content this year as we build towards Kickstarter number 2. We have our early adopters but also people coming to the blog who are not necessarily going to go back to and read from the beginning. It’s an interesting challenge.
Do you think that approach helped you guys actually make more noise than launching the brand in a traditional way (keeping quiet during the build-up and then debuting everything at once)?
For sure. We were lucky to have so many friends in the press world willing to share our blog and story with their following. I think they found our initial concept and execution of some value for their reader and jumped on board early sharing our early, prototypes and blog with their viewers. This really bumped up the sign-ups were got.
Right now you only have four products. It seems more and more that people love brands or experiences that are simple. Do you plan to retain this level of simplicity?
We hope to stay self-funded and there is a limit to how much work the two of us can get done. After the successful launch on Kickstarter, we went back to our multiyear product outline and opted to add two more complimentary goods to the lineup this summer. We really want to design our future heritage pieces, so there’s a lot of up-front effort to get things right. Once a design is finished we’d love to just keep selling it, rather than re-designing every few seasons. We are more interested in quality than quantity.
What did you learn at Goruck? How did that shape your approach at EVERGOODS?
That when there’s a will there’s a way. Small business is really hand-to-hand combat. But, the things I was bad at GORUCK in the early days I was able to think about a bit more clearly in the early days for EVERGOODS. Cash forecasting, factory OPS, marketing outreach, and most importantly what I hope is a more rounded approach to how we answer the design challenges that we lay out in front of ourselves.
How much does being in Bozeman affect what you are trying to do? Seems like the ideal place to launch an outdoor brand.
Bozeman is the inspiration for what is EVERGOODS. I spent years working here for GORUCK building products that not many people in the area used. As I worked here and began to experience and enjoy the proximity of downtown and the mountainscape I began to wish for products that thrived in both environments. Typically, mountain product fits amazing but is not necessary in fabrics and features sets that make them excel in the every day.
You actually inspired us to realize we could be a part of Bozeman and we should own that and it paved the way for our partnership with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. Their tagline is MAINSTREET to the MOUNTAINs. We just gave them 1% of last year’s revenue. That felt really good. Thanks for being a sounding board and helping us clarify that opportunity.
Do you think the Made in the U.S.A. movement is over? Have you noticed consumer attitudes trend away from domestic manufactured goods?
I cannot say that it is over. I can share some numbers. When we moved our production to Vietnam ( as opposed to US Manufacturing like we promoted) after our campaign we offered a full refund to all backers. We only lost 30 out of 600 or so. I expected this number to be higher. Additionally, we had been speaking with a Japanese distributor under the assumption they could sell our USA made goods. I called them to say we were moving production and they went to a dozen Japanese retailers and asked them how important U.S.A. made was and it was not close to the top of their lists on what is important in being able to sell to the Japanese consumer. This came as a surprise to our Japanese partner and ourselves.
I know from other people I have spoken to over the years that it’s just unnecessarily hard to make stuff in the U.S.A. because of there’s just so little manufacturing left here and that there are just so many challenges (lack of options for factories, the price of labor makes it expensive considering the quality). Why did you ultimately decide not to make in the U.S.A.?
There are a million bags in the market. What makes these bags unique?
I think our bags are a combination of decisions regarding fit, function, access, ergonomics, and materials that make them their own thing in the pack world. They have heft but are also so nimble and easy to use and get in-and-out of. Initial feedback is supporting this and we are stoked people are pleased with their bags.
What have you learned about yourself as an entrepreneur? What advise would you give to someone starting out?
That it is all doable. Even though I helped create GORUCK, Jason really drove what the brand became through the events platform. I spent most of my time living product and production.
Starting out: be bold. Know your story. Work it and refine it. Then go after it. And be willing to be wrong. Be willing to ask for help.