Celebrating Success: NatureDry LOFT


Crowdfunding

In this series, “Celebrating Success,” we’re speaking with innovators and entrepreneurs who walked the journey of taking a product from idea to reality. Today, we’re speaking with James Kelly, co-founder of Woolly Clothing Company. In 2021, the NatureDry LOFT campaign raised $336,573.

Celebrating Success: NatureDry LOFT

In this series, “Celebrating Success,” we’re speaking with innovators and entrepreneurs who walked the journey of taking a product from idea to reality. Today, we’re speaking with James Kelly, co-founder of Woolly Clothing Company. In 2021, the NatureDry LOFT campaign raised $336,573.

 

NatureDry Wolly LOFT Lifestyle

 

When you look back at your journey up to this point, what stands out?

No rest for the weary, that’s certainly one theme. Over the years you keep thinking about how you’re going to figure out solutions to make things less complex and better. Working with you guys [Enventys Partners] helped as we sought ways to help us manage this beast. You’ve got to find good partners, you’ve got to find ways to scale, you’ve got to find ways to help your business grow that don’t continue to add complexity.

 

NatureDry LOFT marked your third successful crowdfunding campaign. Were you able to reduce complexity with each successful campaign?

That was the hypothesis. But that has not been true. We had this dream that we’d figure out the template and the formula and then it would just be super easy. We thought it would be a rinse and repeat kind of thing. It turns out, any business that finds any kind of success, it’s almost like raising kids. If you have three kids, just because you had one, does that mean you’ve got it all figured out? No! It’s endlessly complicated, each crowdfunding campaign is unique with its own problems and challenges along the way.

 

When you encountered those problems or challenges, do you remember moments along the way where you thought, what are we doing? Or did you have insecurities?

I don’t know about insecurities, but certainly doubts. We started this thing as a total side hustle.  A few hours here, a few hours there. At some point, I realized I was working a 60-70 hour-a-week job, spending all my free time tagging boxes of wool and worrying about ads. I was just like something has to give. Eventually, I quit the job and went full-time on the business.

I think every step along the way, as you’re growing a business, you have a lot of moments of like, ‘I thought this might be a fun, easy side hustle to make a little extra money,’ but the complexity never ends. There’s constant growth. You tend to have a lot of gut checks along the way in realizing it’s a lot of risk, a lot of pain, and a lot of work. Sometimes it feels super worth it and sometimes it doesn’t. You’re always evaluating and re-evaluating. I think doing it with your buddies, feeling accountable and responsible to each other, helps keep you pretty motivated. Even when the business is hard, you’re at least doing it with people you enjoy spending time with. It’s a different beast from the corporate world. You may not like your co-workers but you don’t necessarily pick them. I think that’s kind of gotten us through our years of struggle.

 

NatureDry Kickstarter

 

Is there a moment in the crowdfunding journey that stands out to you?

I think the big one for us was the first campaign we did. Honestly, we didn’t know if it was going to work. It’s a ton of work to make a good campaign. We knew that it was going to be a lot of work and it ended up being even more work than we expected. Making a good video, managing all the backers, and the shipping, it’s a huge departure from the usual business model.

The crowdfunding world is so much more active, heavy-lifting and really hands-on. We thought we’d try it and see if it’s worth it because we knew it could be a game changer. And that first day of our first campaign, we realized it was going to work and solve a lot of problems for us: the capital side, the marketing side, the product launching side. It opened an entirely new dimension of how we could run things. I think that was eye-opening for us in terms of thinking about ways you can run and think about growing a business. Crowdfunding frees you up to be really creative and aggressive in good ways.

 

After success with that first campaign being a “game changer” how do you approach brainstorming or finding the inspiration to continue to evolve?

There’s one big thing that happens when you have a crowdfunding success which is that it makes you much more bold. It’s hard to bootstrap new products. Having that first [successful] crowdfunding campaign really opened up a lot and allowed us to think bigger and more creatively. That was the first step that I think allowed us to change our mindset. From that point on, whenever we sit down to think of long term, strategic and creative, we have this much bigger lens to evaluate what we can do and what makes sense. We started looking farther afield like we can think bigger, we can tackle bigger, harder product innovations. We can look at new fabrics, new types of technology. We can really kind of get out of our comfort zone. It opened up the ability to realize that we have this tool at our disposal to help us take risk. If you’re doing it all on your own, it’s that ‘bet your life’ kind of bet. The crowdfunding helps you make that leap. All those backers get in with you and it’s a total gamechanger.

 

In thinking bigger, how has sustainability factored into the evolution of where you are now compared to where you started?

Wool’s been around for a long time. It’s nothing new, necessarily. The original idea was really like, ‘hey wool’s super expensive, I think we can do this better and cheaper.’ It was kind of the classic entrepreneurial opportunity. And then as we got into the industry and learned more about the fabric, the textile, what’s capable, what’s out there, we started to think not only can we do cheaper and better but we can start replacing some of these industry standards that are destroying our world.

So the evolution of the brand kind of happened over the last few years in trying to make a dent in the global clothing industry. We wanted to try and move it a little bit with better practices, better products, better materials, in a more sustainable way of operating. That definitely wasn’t in our mind from day one, I don’t think we had connected those dots. But as we sort of grew the business, learned more about the market, customers and everything that was possible, it kind of emerged naturally. I think step one for anybody is trying to make your business…not fail. And then step two is kind of like, alright now I want to make this something that I’m really proud of.

 

Wolly LOFT Lifestyle Jacket

 

What has been the most gratifying aspect of your journey, to date?

Gratification comes from making a business run and making it exist. It’s like a fun intellectual challenge. I think there’s some moment in any entrepreneurial journey where you’re like, ‘Alright I did it, like I made it. I made this thing go.’ That’s gratifying, but it’s pretty fleeting because you know that any success is temporary and you have to keep fighting fires and figuring things out. There’s never a moment that you feel comfortable.

I think the other point of gratification comes from realizing what your success does. My business partners have kids and it’s gratifying to think about how, if we keep going on to find success, this will be the way that they go to college. This will be the way that we support programs that we believe in. There’s all these ways that businesses and economic success creates opportunity and goodness in the world. That’s the ultimate payoff.

 

What do you wish you would have known before you started the journey of crowdfunding?

The number one thing that really caught me off guard was how different it is from any other kind of e-commerce or business activity. The customer is a very different customer. They’re super engaged. They’re super committed. They have higher expectations and more questions than any other customer you’ll ever have, which is a great thing and it’s also a challenge. You’ve got to be ready for that. Shipping things all over the world, 50 different countries is a hell of a lot harder than shipping to 50 different states. For the opportunity that it does give you, it also comes with a lot of extra overhead. I certainly did not appreciate that going into it. I was too dumb to seek anybody out that could have given me that advice. Certainly for the first campaign, every step of the process was about five to ten times more arduous than I expected. You can get overwhelmed pretty quick.

 

What’s the mistake that you made along the way that somebody else could learn from?

You need to be really really hungry for feedback, every step of the way. I think we fooled ourselves a few times thinking that this product is amazing and everyone’s going to love it.

I think there’s so much happening that you’re trying to solve so fast. The tendency is to just make a solution and move on. The advice I give people is you have to socialize everything. Ask your friends, ask a lot of your friends. We’ve made the mistake of asking our three closest friends for feedback. Well, it turned out those guys are all the same demographic. You really gotta seek out a lot of diversity that helps improve every part of the process.

 

NatureDry Puffy

 

What’s the biggest challenge for you after a successful crowdfunding campaign?

Fulfillment. It just amounts to always so much effort. It’s so hard. That’s the number one challenge of completing a campaign. You think the campaign’s over when you raise your money, but the hard work is really just beginning. You’ve got a year of managing expectations, updates, fulfillment, logistics and returns. You’ve really just started the work when the campaign’s over. I certainly thought long and hard before doing the second one. The first one almost broke me. I needed to go on a month-long vacation and recharge my batteries. But then you take that time to realize, alright, we can do this again. I can do better, I can plan better. Like anything, your first rep is pretty rough. But each one after that becomes a little easier.

 

What’s next for Woolly?

We’ve got all kinds of cool prototypes in the office right now. We’ve got some cool innovative new wool shoes that we’re working on that are unlike anything anybody’s ever seen before. We’ve got prototypes in the luggage space. We’ve got a whole bunch of cool new ideas for clothing that are going to kind of shock people in showing what wool is capable of. People are always surprised like, ‘wool underwear?’ You can do anything with wool. We’re gonna keep pushing the boundaries. We want to keep figuring out ways to sell more of the clothing aisle with cooler, better-in-every-way products that are made of wool, biodegradable, sustainable and natural products.

 

Enventys Partners Celebrates Client Success

As we celebrate 20 years in business, Enventys Partners is grateful to the clients who trusted us to be a part of their journeys. If you’re looking to bring an idea to life, we’d love to partner with you too. Connect with us.

 

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