How Brit + Co Went From Bootstrapped to Raising $20M in Series B Funding
As a bootstrapped company ourselves, we are always curious and inspired by the stories of companies who go from bootstrapping operations in the early days, to raising millions in VC capital just a few years later due to growth.
There is a wealth of knowledge to learn from stories of how a company got from point A to point B, and our team was thrilled to get an insider interview from an example of one of those success stories with Brit + Co.
Former employee of Apple and Google, Brit Morin, decided to pave her own path by combining her passions for technology and making by launching her e-commerce platform for DIY “Brit + Co” in late 2011.
Bootstrapping in the early stages, Brit and her first employee, Anjelika Temple, began creating their content and shooting the DIY projects from their dining room tables.
The fun and modern DIY platform features “How To” articles, recipes, and offers online classes that teach DIY skills along with kits containing all of the necessary materials to complete a project.
Since their humble beginnings a little under 4 years ago, Brit + Co now reaches a global audience of 12 million engaged readers monthly through their website content, app, and social media channels, acquired DIY app Snapguide to expand their piece of the pie in the DIY market and better serve their community, and raised a $20M series B round led by Intel in early June of this year.
We wanted to learn what went into making this maker platform a success so quickly, and were also intrigued by the impressive loyalty and engagement built within their community, so I interviewed the first employee Brit Morin hired, Anjelika Temple, who helped build the company from the ground up and is now their Head of Creative.
Nina (Founders Grid): How did you end up joining Brit + Co in 2011 and what was your role as employee number one?
Anjelika (Brit + Co): Earlier that year my husband (well, boyfriend at the time!) and I decided to quit our jobs in New York and drive across the country to San Francisco. We didn’t have a set plan, and neither of us had jobs lined up. We just knew it was time for a change, that we loved working in the startup world, and honestly, that we needed to get outside more often.
Two weeks after the move, I took a job creating content and defining the voice for a small, local experience-based startup. Though the subject matter was not my passion, I learned that combining my visual and editorial voice to create content for a certain group of readers was something I had a knack for.
Brit Morin and I had met within the first month of my move, and six months later she reached out to me to grab coffee and chat about a new project she was working on.
As you’ve obviously guessed at this point, that project was Brit + Co. She asked me to join as the first employee and Creative Director. The opportunity to join a company and build it from the ground up was an amazing challenge and a no-brainer for me.
Throughout my life, I’ve been extremely passionate about the fact that everyone is creative. Everyone has a creative voice, a creative passion and the spark to make. But, not everyone knows how to ignite that spark. Joining a company whose mission was (and still is) to inspire and enable creativity has been a total dream.
We often joke about how I’ve had every job at the company. In our first year, Brit and I worked together to create all of the content for the website, set up a handful of sales deals, launch our entire social media presence, and you know, make sure that we had things like desks, chairs, and toilet paper.
Since then, my role has continued to include a little bit of everything – creating content for the website, directing hundreds of DIY projects and photos shoots, working to grow the team, defining the company’s culture, and thinking about our long-term goals and how best to meet them.
Nina: Brit Morin bootstrapped the company for the first six months before raising an initial seed round. Can you tell us how that affected the initial launch/growth strategy and what that strategy looked like in the beginning?
Anjelika: For the first couple of months, we actually shot most of our DIY projects on one of our two dining tables, sometimes using our iPhones! That being said, a mix of strategy, cleverness, and creativity has always been important to how and why we create content.
We set up an editorial calendar within the first week of working together. We started out by creating and publishing a few posts a day (often posting on the same day as shooting) and went up from there. We had a certain number of posts in mind for each category in a given week, and would adjust our themes and plans based on what we saw working in terms of traffic and engagement.
We leveraged social media a lot to grow and build our brand. At the company’s start, Brit already had a voice in the world of tech and creativity, and being able to tap into her audience was essential in those first few months.
In 2011, Pinterest was still pretty new and had great potential as a platform for our visually-driven content, so we focused on that alongside Facebook and Twitter.
Nina: Brit has said she attributes the success of Brit + Co to social media. What is your take on this, and how has social media helped grow the company to where it is today?
Anjelika: One of the things that many don’t realize is that the “Co” in “Brit + Co” actually stands for “Community” not “Company.” We’re focused on creating content that drives engagement by touching our readers at those three key stages of the creative process – learning, doing and sharing – which leads to organic social traction.
Brit + Co community members, and DIYers in general, love socially sharing their ideas and completed projects. We also work with top-notch bloggers to help amplify their content and get the word out about our mission on sites that share our values.
Nina: How has your marketing strategy progressed since launch in 2011, and what are some of the key elements to your success?
Anjelika: Our growth strategy has always revolved around creating authentic, beautiful, and smart content that resonates with readers in a natural way – that much is the same from day one to today.
Marketing has evolved as the company has grown, and the addition of new ways to reach our target audience has helped us expand awareness. Live experiences like our annual conference Re:Make, leveraging our blogger partners and community members to spread the word through co-op “par-DIYs”, opening up the Brit + Co Shop in San Francisco, and working with like-minded brands like Target and Pinterest have been other tactics we’ve leveraged.
Nina: How do you measure the success of your marketing efforts, and would you recommend any specific CRM tools to our readers?
Anjelika: We look at a variety of metrics, but engagement and participation from our community is top of mind for us. As for customer relationship tools, we used MailChimp for almost the first 3 years we were in business for all of our email marketing campaigns.
We only recently switched to Zoho for a more integrated platform that allows us to better segment campaigns. As for keeping track of content, campaigns, and editorial, we have yet to find a better system than Google Docs.
You don’t have to spend a ton of money on the latest and greatest tools and software to be successful.
Nina: You’ve worked with some large brands on advertising and creating custom content. How do you attract these companies to advertise with you, and get them excited and on board?
Anjelika: We have a large, engaged audience – predominantly millennials – that brands are looking connect with in different ways. So we think about how to pair those two things together, but in an authentic way that’s beneficial for our community.
We’ve taken a pretty different approach to working with large brands than most traditional media companies. Nothing that we offer is canned. Each partnership is incredibly custom and tailored to both the brand’s goals and their message as well as ours.
All of the creative is created in-house, and is treated as an extension of our own content. Again, being authentic – always true to the Brit + Co brand and being thoughtful that we’re providing valuable, interesting content to our readers – helps make sure these partnerships are successful.
Brands are becoming more aware of the fact that millennials aren’t attracted to many of the old-school marketing tactics, and prefer a more authentic voice. We completely agree – we don’t want to be talked at, but we do want to discover something new. There’s a fine balance there.
Nina: How did you get to understanding what your audience was looking for, and how has this affected the progression of Brit + Co in current/future features?
Anjelika: We’re always paying close attention to what our audience loves to read about and learn based on social sharing, interaction, and readership numbers, and we’re constantly adapting to their preferences while staying true to our core values.
Most Brit + Co readers come to us for creative inspiration, so that’s the guiding principle for the content we continue to deliver. We’ve found that what our users want to read, Pin, and add to their cart is often extremely different from what they want to learn, do, and share.
The idea that a reader comes to our site looking for table setting ideas and leaves our site with plans to build a dining table from scratch is super inspiring.”
Nina: What have been hurdles you’ve had to overcome in your growth strategy?
Anjelika: Keeping up with demand has been a challenge, both on the partnership front as well as on the editorial side. Finding the right balance when building out a team can be a challenge.
We’ve worked hard to handcraft our team of full-time makers, designers, writers, and photographers with a great amount of care and thoughtfulness. Though it’s been a challenge, growing the creative and editorial teams have been incredibly rewarding.
But no matter how much we grow, we will always face the challenge of making sure we’re delivering enough high-quality content that people who come to the site every day are getting just as much creative inspiration as they did the day before.
Nina: Your recent raise of $20M led by Intel is gaining a wealth of media love. Can you give your readers advice on their current or future capital raises?
Anjelika: Before you get started, understand that raising money is a challenging and time consuming endeavour. You need to treat your fundraising the same way you would treat an interview of a new employee, and ask what each investor can bring to the table that you don’t have.
Understand what your company is currently lacking, or can use improvement on, and look for investors with experience in those areas. Understand an investor’s background, insights, beliefs, and vision for your company’s future and make sure that it aligns with your own.
The best question you can ask yourself when choosing investors is “Is this someone I want at my lunch table?”.
Brit has met with many, many people to find the right investors that were not only interested in us, but that we were also interested and excited to work with.
Nina: Can you share a win (milestone) or two that Brit + Co has hit in growth targets and share how you achieved it?
Anjelika: We’ve hit some major readership milestones over the years and are now connecting with 12 million people every month through our site, app and social channels. Our annual conference Re:Make, where we bring together makers for two days of inspiring talks and live making, has seen lots of growth as well.
We had more than 5,000 attendees last year (compared to 2,500 in the first year). We’ve been successful by being scrappy and creative – partnering with smart people and finding new ways to connect with millennials have been big contributing factors to our overall growth.
We are very excited about about giving back to our community with the recent launch of our #IAMCREATIVE Foundation, which is a fund designed to enable women and girls to make.
Brit + Co will offer grants between $2,500 and $15,000 to help kickstart creative projects, with four application cycles per year. Readers can submit their ideas HERE (Our first application deadline is July 31st, 2015).
The platform has an impressive board of advisors including C-Suite leaders from Motorola, Crayola, and Home Depot, to the VP of Marketing at Target. We are very excited to see these dream projects come to life.
Nina: What tips can you leave our readers with on growing their audience and building a strong community?
Anjelika: Find your voice. Whether or not you actually use that voice everyday, defining who you are, what core values you stand for, and who your people are is crucial to success and community.
And when I say “your people,” I mean it. Yes, they are your users, your readers, your target audience, and your customers, but they are real people and so are you.
In addition to being creative and inspiring, you have to be human, be imperfect, and be your community’s friend. Being able to connect with our readers and community members on that personal level helps make sure they keep coming back.
When you’re focused on creating a community, rather than simply pushing content, it just falls into place.
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[su_column size=”4/5″] Nina is the chief content creator and editor for Founders Grid. She is also a speaker, contributor at Huffington Post and an all-round startup enthusiast.[/su_column]
Written by SaaSicorn
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