Brian Spaly was tired of droopy pants. So, he designed pants that cater to a man's anatomy, with a curved waistband and a medium rise, and that are more tailored through the thigh than the more-common flowing fit. While many of Spaly's friends asked him to make them pairs of the flattering trousers, one friend, Stanford Business School classmate Andy Dunn, saw a business opportunity. The two partnered up in October of 2007, and started Bonobos, Inc., a 100% web-based, premium men's clothing brand, that sells casual dress trousers in fabrics like lightweight wool, corduroy, and cashmere that cost $110 to $310 per pair.
By the end of their first year, Bonobos attracted over 5,000 customers, and sold more than 12,000 pairs of pants, almost entirely on Bonobos.com. Last fall, even as the retail sector nosedived, Bonobos sales increased steadily each month, from $163,000 in August to $270,000 in December.
The business started in Dunn's apartment on East 17th Street in Manhattan. As the orders began to roll in, Bonobos soon needed to hire their first employee. The challenge was to find someone who was willing to take a chance and work at a barebones operation, but not have to compromise their standards for a talented, educated, professional employee.
"When we hired our very first employee, it was really about us marketing ourselves and saying, 'This is going to be an awesome company; believe us,'" says Dunn. "Our first employee, Dave Eisenberg, joined us when I was working out of my apartment at 17th and Irving, and we would pick, pack, and ship out of my bedroom, which had 400 pairs of pants up on the wall. At that time, we offered him an equity stake in the business and the promise of a lot of mentoring. At the end of the day, it was Dave's conviction that we were doing something innovative that made him decide to join us. This was going to be a start-up atmosphere, where not only could he learn a lot, but we were building a company together, developing great products, and having it be financially valuable. I think in a lot of ways, we're run a lot more like a Silicon Valley start-up, than a typical, fashion apparel business. Because of that, if you fast forward to today, we're now filtering people that want to come work for us."
To find individuals who thrive in this environment, Dunn developed a unique way to attract the right candidates. Take, for example, the customer service representatives. Because the company places a lot of emphasis on the quality of its customer service, they look for specific qualities in their reps. In order to target people with those qualities, they changed the reps' job title to "customer service ninja." "The ninjas idea was to attract attention on craigslist when we were first recruiting for the position," says Dunn. "For us to recruit awesome people, we felt like we had to make it clear that we were looking for a different kind of a customer service rep, and so the title 'customer service rep' didn't feel appropriate. Now, we've got a team of five Ninjas, and we're setting a really high bar. In addition to the free shipping and free return polices that we offer, if you have a question about fit, products that are in or out of stock, or how to shop, you can contact our Ninjas by email or on the phone, and you're going to get someone who's empathetic, intelligent, college educated, and witty, and who's going to take care of you."