The Beardbrand Way – An Interview with Eric Bandholz

We’ve been working with Beardbrand for about a year-and-a-half. During that time we’ve witnessed their explosive growth and national media attention as well as a cultural shift in how society views beards. It’s one of the most striking examples of the power of community I’ve seen in business. I sat down with Eric Bandholz to better understand how they engage with their audience, earn their trust, and operate their business—the Beardbrand way.

From the beginning, you’ve had an incredibly strong belief that Beardbrand would be successful. How were you able to stick to your guns, even when people told you it was a crazy idea?

Eric: I don’t know any other perspective but mine as an individual. I figured what I’d gone through was likely experienced by other men out there. I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew there had to be a large community of men out there who wanted to grow a beard or didn’t like shaving.

How can I help make that experience better? It really wasn’t thought of from a business standpoint first. It was thought of from my individual standpoint first, followed by connecting with professionals who want to grow facial hair. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was solving a problem, but rather looking into the root reasons for uniting our audience.

You often mention bearded persecution in the workplace. Was that something that was present in the early days of Beardbrand?

Eric: Yeah. Before Beardbrand even existed I wrote a couple of guest articles on Business Insider in 2011 where I talked about bringing the beard back to the corporate environment and what a person has to deal with when they grow out their facial hair.

The culture has changed in the past few years (at least from my perspective) to be much more accepting of beards. Do you think that’s the case?

Eric: Yeah. Society is definitely shifting to become more tolerant of facial hair. I’d like to say we’ve had a part in helping with that transition, but we’re definitely not exclusively responsible for that. We have inspired a lot of guys to grow beards, though. I can confirm that. I don’t even know the number of emails and letters I’ve received from guys over the past three years who have been thankful for our words, our help, and our products.


One of the many letters of support Beardbrand has received over the past three years

You understand your audience very well. Does that come naturally or is it something that has improved over time? What’s your secret?

Eric: I think I have a good foundation in that I’m passionate about our products and the industry. We do our homework to make sure that we formulate the best products. From there I think it’s about engaging with our audience.

For example, I’ve read every single comment on my YouTube channel that’s been posted to any of my videos. On Reddit I’ve read every single comment and response to any posts that I’ve had. It’s not specifically going out there looking for feedback. It’s just simply being involved and immersed within the community.

I’ve gone to over a dozen beard competitions around the nation and talked with with a bunch of bearded guys. When you’re connected—when you’re in it—it’s not work. You learn by doing.

Most organizations have a hard time publishing content consistently. But between Beardbrand, Urban Beardsman, YouTube, and Reddit, you’re a prolific publisher of content. How do you do it?

Eric: For me it comes down to expressing my emotions as they come to me, usually related to some kind of talking point of the day. Like today, I was talking about an article referencing the supposedly high concentration of poop in beards. It was important to come out quickly to say that’s a crock of shit. Our article [rebutting the poop in beards theory] was posted yesterday and has already received 400 shares on Facebook, which is a good response for us. With YouTube, it’s mostly listening to the community and providing what they want to know.

From a tactical standpoint, we’ve brought on an editor. That’s helped with both the day-to-day side of things and our long-term strategy in both the type of content we create and the platforms used for distribution.

How is your communication on Reddit different?

Eric: I don’t use Reddit as a way to drive sales at all. I use Reddit to share cool content that we’ve created and to connect with the community. The moment you use Reddit to drive revenue you’ll find the complete opposite result. It’s about being authentic and sharing your passion.

How do you adapt to the quickly evolving social media landscape?

Eric: The platforms have ebbed and flowed for us over time as we’ve grown. Facebook was really good for us in the beginning. Then it became irrelevant for a long time. But lately it’s picked back up. To me it’s being able to react to the trends, measure results, and adapt quickly to get the most impact from your message.

In the year-and-a-half we’ve been working with you, we’ve received very little pushback to our recommendations (perhaps more than any other client). Is that part of a strategy or are you trustworthy by nature?

Eric: Our company is built on trust as one of our pillars. So, we work with vendors that we trust. There is no point in paying a vendor to do something if we thought we could do a better job in-house. If a vendor says we should do something, then we do it. If we think a recommendation is not appropriate, we’ll take the time to help educate them on why it won’t work for us.

We trust the people we work with. We also know that there’s a lot to be lost in moving slow. So I’d rather occasionally get things wrong and move quickly to fix them than move slowly and miss an opportunity.

You’ve put the brakes on us before when we’ve recommended online conversion tactics we’ve seen work well for other clients. Is that (not being too salesy) an important part of establishing trust with your audience?

Eric: Yeah. I mean, it’s a tough line. Ultimately we are a business and want to use our growth to spread the message and change the way society views urban beardsman.

In your opinion, are there online sales tactics that break that trust?

Eric: From my perspective as an online consumer (and as Beardbrand’s #1 avatar), I don’t like pop-ups when I go to a website. It tells me something. It tells me they’re desperate, lack confidence, and are willing to needle and beg me to make a purchase. I’d rather buy from companies who are confident in their products and don’t need to beg.

That’s the strategy we’ve had from the beginning. It’s tough, though. I want to make sure we’re dong the best, but it’s a long-term play. We plan on being in this business for a very long time. We don’t plan on doing this for a couple of years, make a quick buck, and ride around on yachts all day.

How important is customer service in maintaining that trust?

Eric: That’s really important to us. We know that anyone can go to and get something that’s going to be cheaper than our products. Where they can’t beat us is our ability to educate the audience, help them beyond the product purchase, and really provide a first-rate customer service experience. We’re always working to improve and I think we’re getting better all the time. Everyday we get photos from guys that are growing their beards to let us know about their journey. For us, customer service isn’t just about making sure the product gets there on time. It’s about getting to know our customers better, too.

The Beardbrand team sitting together not thinking about riding around in yachts all day

The Beardbrand team is not interested riding around in yachts all day

Beardbrand has been featured in the New York Times, Men’s Journal, Fast Company, Inc., Forbes, and many others. How have you gotten so many bucket-list PR opportunities in such a short period of time?

Eric: We definitely invest in PR. We work with a firm called Pistol PR that has helped with a lot of those connections. But it also goes back to my personal style of trying to build relationships and never burn bridges.

For instance, the Fast Company article started when I did an interview with an intern at the Wall Street Journal for a little project I was working on called Bingle back in 2009. I maintained that relationship over the years. I was able to connect with Rob Brunner when my contact took a job at Fast Company because of that relationship.

There are stories like that where, as you get older, and grow your network, opportunities present themselves. Like I said, we invest a lot in PR. Some months you get a lot of articles, some months you don’t. But it’s part of a systematic process for us. It’s another example of a long-term play.

Of course we can’t have a Beardbrand interview without at least one Shark Tank question. Your “Ultimate Shark Tank Guide” on Reddit is, well, the ultimate guide to Shark Tank. Can you summarize why you went through the time-consuming process to appear on the show?

Eric: Shark Tank, for us, wasn’t necessarily a solution to take us to the next level. We were going to get there, with or without Shark Tank. But the risk was that another competitor was going to get on Shark Tank first and get that national exposure and awareness.

We obviously knew it was a great opportunity to share what we were building in front of millions of people as well as gain access to very successful, talented and knowledgeable investors. It was a really good opportunity from that standpoint. But we never wanted to ride on the coattails of Shark Tank and have that be the reason for our success. We wanted it to be one of the things that helped us get there.

Anything you’d like to add in closing?

Eric: I think the thing that I’d like to point out is that this isn’t an easy flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. It’s been very purposeful and meticulous work with a lot of time and resources behind it to get where we are today. It’s absolutely been a journey of labor and of love. I’d also like to say that success comes from simply being a member of your community. Imagine going to a bakery and getting to know your local baker. Think of the special items your local baker will create for you over the years and the feeling that relationship creates. We want to do that on a national level with our customers and our products. That’s our goal: to be part of a community and connect with them as best we can on a personal level.

MozCon Recap and Test Driving a Starship

MozCon 2014The past week, I had the joy of spending the week in Seattle to experience not only my first MozCon, but my first marketing conference. Having spent the majority of my workforce life in hospitality, most conferences were sponsored by food and beverage vendors and were dedicated to eating and drinking the latest and greatest while wandering booths pretending that you hadn’t already tried the meatballs, similar to Costco’s sample day.

Moz went above and beyond anything I could have expected.

There are so many things to mention about the conference, but I’ll recap the top five that really stood out to me.

5. Mike King – API Killah. 
This guy blew the crowd away entirely. If you were following the Twitter feed for #mozcon you would have witnessed a plethora of “I’m officially freaked out.”, “Mike King just blew my mind”, and “WTF?” tweets. He kicked things off by describing a user’s unique fingerprint they leave on each website which was interesting in itself. He then threw us down the rabbit hole of linking APIs to take that fingerprint to find out EXACTLY who each user was, their demographic, their location, their habits, etc. It was insane. Unfortunately, he didn’t also blow us away with his rap skills this year, but I’m told they’re pretty epic. You can download his slide deck from the conference here and follow him on Twitter under the handle @iPullRank.

Mike Ramsey Shuffleboard4. Mike Ramsey – Small Town Man, Doing Big Things
I had the awesome opportunity to meet Mike Ramsey before his presentation and watch him and Ed Reese clean the shuffleboard house at the Unbounce MozCrawl afterparty. The following day he gave his local search presentation and was nothing short of incredible. He creatively and seamlessly incorporated his hometown of Burley, Idaho into every aspect of his slide deck and polished it with gorgeous photography, strategic humor and even pictures of his kids (who may kick you in the face). His firm, Nifty Marketing, focuses on “making local search sexy” and they do a damn good job. Check out his slide deck here and follow the genuinely nice guy on Twitter at @MikeRamsey. He also loves Weezer. Just saying.

Tesla S3. Test Driving A Starship
I have the pleasure of living a short drive (read: long, but worth it) away from Seattle, but it is usually the best idea to cram as many things into the trip as possible. We decided to take a quick break from the conference to walk over to a little car company named Tesla to take one out for a spin. We fully warned our co-pilot that we weren’t planning on buying one for a while and she reassured us that no one is, because you simply can’t; they’re booked out on production for the next year and a half. That being said, we hopped in, played with every option on the 17″ display and took off into the streets of Seattle. With 100% of the torque going straight to the wheels, my face hurt afterwards from smiling too much.
Note: I did not get paid for this shameless plug.

MozCon At The Garage2. MozCon’s Partner Hub
Moz did a great job in picking several partners for the event who hung out outside and gave demos and information on their products. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of fun people and learn more about some of the partners that we use, or are definitely using in the future. Never once did I feel pressured to purchase anything, they simply wanted to share what they were up to and get to know their potential clients. Had great conversations and a fantastic time hanging out with Paul from Buzzstream, Oli and the Unbounce team, and Taylor from Optimizely! Look forward to seeing all of them at future events!

1. Content
I’m not sure the best way to really title this concept that was generated throughout the conference but it is a breath of fresh air. Sure, we can’t game Google search like we used to be able to, but they’re forcing to provide something the internet truly needs: Good Content. We can hate on Google and their 1000s of employed PhDs who tweak and twist their algorithm without anyone knowing the better, skewing our client’s search rankings we’ve pushed so hard to produce. We can get mad every time they name an update after an animal we will soon despise when we see at the zoo, but they’re pushing us to make a better internet. Nearly every presentation held an underlying tone that we can be as technical as we want, but in the end, just make your site better, publish something people will share, write articles readers will love and want to come back to read again. Stop worrying about the little wins and focus on the big picture. The saying I have been throwing around the office lately can sum up the greatest idea from MozCon, “Do the thing”. Time after time, we get caught in the weeds focusing on unimportant projects, or financials, or who knows what, the problem is that we ignore the main idea. #DoTheThing

0. MOZ
So I am probably breaking some sort of countdown rule by going all the way to zero, but I owe the biggest shout out to Moz for putting on a seamless conference. The production value was outstanding with incredible and entertaining videos, great music, food, shirts, and even stuffed Roger dolls. We’ll be back next year, Moz. See you all then.

Rhonda Sand – Purposeful Africa Non-Profit

rhonda-sand-nonprofit-purposeful-africa1I believe it’s important to focus my SEO efforts on good causes when I can.  But, between running a business, keeping my mind fresh with new technical content, and spending time with family, I’m not able to take on as many projects as I’d like.

However, I’ve just added a new one to the list and wanted to let you know.  It’s a non-profit founded by Rhonda Sand of TMI Tours called Purposeful Africa.  I was introduced to Rhonda by Jamie Birch, who is already on board supporting her efforts with a small team from Coeur d’Alene and Spokane volunteering their time and resources.  As I’m new to the project, I don’t have much to share other than that I’m on board and looking forward to contributing to their efforts.  More details in the coming months…

Free SEO Training for Indie Restaurants

My favorite Indian restaurant went out of business this past year.  Call me selfish, but I’m tired of my favorite little ethnic (and other unique) restaurants going under. It’s not just the food. It’s the culture. These unique little establishments add some much needed flavor to Spokane, and I’d like to do something to help them survive in this tough economy. So, I’ve decided to teach a free Internet marketing seminar series for indie restaurants. The classes will focus on how to use search engine optimization, social media, and other Internet marketing strategies to find new customers. And yes, it’s free.

So what’s the problem, anyway? Well, it’s often an impulsive choice of where to eat. “Hey Honey, how does Vietnamese sound tonight?” They search online for where to go. Here’s what they find:

Spokane Vietnamese Restaurants

The problem is that these just aren’t good search results. There are bogus listings as well as duplicates. Players & Spectators is a Vietnamese restaurans? I did not know this. My favorite Vietnamese Restaurant, Vina (at the corner of Ash & Northwest BLVD), isn’t even on the complete list of Vietnamese Restaurants on Google Local. However, the Spokane Public Library is. I didn’t know that, either. Books, free WiFi, and spicy Beef Pho,… now we’re cookin’ with gas! Many great restaurants aren’t even found by their own name. You get the idea. Here are a few details about the first class. I look forward to seeing you there.

Class Location: Monterey Cafe’ 9 N. Washington Street (Sprague & Washington)

Date/Time: TBD (We’re shooting for late April)


We’ll discuss many aspects of Internet marketing. Here’s a bit of what you’ll learn to do:

-Create your own Google Local Business Listing (as well as local listings on Yahoo and MSN)
-Add online citations to improve your Internet exposure (even without a web site)
-Add descriptive online listing categories to get targeted traffic for your business
-Take advantage of the 20,000+ searches a month for Spokane Restaurants
-Use social networks to create a following for your restaurant
-Use great Local Search offerings like to streamline the process.

It should be a good time. The Monterey Cafe’ has graciously offered to host the first event and will be providing a tasty selection of light appetizers for the group. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call.

Dick’s Drive-In. Spokane’s Centroid

One of the factors that influences the Local Search algorithm is called the proximity to the centroid. That is, how far whatever you’re searching for from the center of the city as defined by Google. In the case of Spokane, it has a most fitting location:

Dick’s Drive-In

That’s right, the intersection of 3rd & Division is not only the home of the “Whammie” and the best fries in town, but is also the geographic center of Spokane in the eyes of Google.

This is so damn fitting I took the family down for lunch. I love Dick’s Drive-in! Not only do they have some of the best burgers and fries around (OK, Hudson’s in CDA actually has the best burgers in the Inland Empire), but I’m pretty sure they haven’t changed prices since I unsuccessfully tried to pick-up girls there in high school. Here’s the thing I love most about Dick’s Drive-in, though. You see all walks of life in the ten minutes under those amazing heat lamps waiting for your burgers (they are pure salvation in the Winter). It’s actually a pretty representative cross section of Spokane as far as I can tell. At least at lunch.

So what does that mean for your company in terms of Local Search?

While it may sound odd, the closer you are to Dick’s Drive-in, the easier it will be to rank in Local Search (Google Maps) in Spokane. This is expecially true for non-competitive terms. There are many other variables that are part of the local algorithm, but distance from the centroid is one of them. For those interested in additional details, I’d recommend checking out a recap of David Mihm’s SEMpdx hotseat presentation as well as the SMX Local Search interview wrap-up. In the meantime, I recommend ordering a couple of Whammies, some fries, and a chocolate malt.