Bombas: Better socks. Better world. Bee better
A good product, a great mission and a very narrow focus is what Bombas is made of
Bombas, a sock brand that started with an intention to help the needy has also managed to build a powerful profitable company. They now do >$250 Mn in annual revenue. They did this with only $4 Mn in money raised before 2021.
The company serves as an example for new D2C brands on how to make customers feel good about themselves as they shop.
Bombas has managed to donate more than 50M pieces of clothing in 7 years through their unique buy one donate one business model. This week let’s dive into how this B corp is taking over the world one sock at a time.
An unusual beginning with the intention to just donate socks to the needful
Before starting Bombas, Randy Goldberg and David Heath worked at a media start-up in New York. Like any other colleagues enthusiastic about starting up, they were constantly jamming ideas on lunch tables, water coolers, etc. One day, Randy accidentally came across a Facebook post that mentioned how socks are the most-requested item in homeless shelters. This is because it's impossible to take donations for used socks (due to hygiene issues) unlike t-shirts or other clothes.
This hit them like a truck as New York can get biting cold. They felt they needed to do something about it.
That’s when they came across the business models of Toms Shoes and Warby Parker. These brands were donating one of their products to charity on every sale. They said, “If these guys can do it for shoes and glasses, we should be able to do it for socks”
But they knew that they’d have to make really amazing socks to actually be able to absorb the costs of also donating them.
Socks had forever been an afterthought for both brands and customers
The athletic socks had not changed in forever.
“Socks have always been an afterthought for brands where they just procure it and add it to their store. Our focus was socks and we wanted to build the best socks in the history of feet” – David Heath, founder of Bombas
With no industry background and knowledge of “how it's done”, Randy and David just figured they’ll build the socks of their dreams. They looked at a lot of socks, spoke to a bunch of customers, and found a few overwhelming problems
Seams at the toes are always uncomfortable
Socks don’t account for depression in the midfoot and the additional support it needs
Blisters on the ankle due to rubbing and chafing against the shoe
Socks slipping down or coming off inside the shoe
Boring socks in the same colors - White, Black, and Grey
They started building the socks of their dreams, primarily solving these problems. All of this while still being on their media day job. In 2 years, Bombas was born with the promise of being “the most comfortable socks in the history of feet”. No one had ever thought so deeply about socks before.
Derived from the Latin word for bumblebee, Bombas is all about the whole hive working together to make things better. Every pair has their tagline “bee better” stitched inside
They started to sell their socks to folks in the nearby gym along with friends and family. They did not expect the amazing reaction it instantly got. People were raving about their socks and it was growing fast, organically.
Goldberg and Heath quit their day job and released Bombas through an Indiegogo campaign.
They could not keep up with the traction they were receiving for their socks. They realized they needed more money to keep scaling the business and go full time into it.
Bombas went live with an Indiegogo campaign. Their goal was to raise $15K in 30 days. The results were staggering. Goldberg and Heath ended up raising $25K in just 24 hours and $140K overall.
With the right funds, they grew super fast, making $500K in the first five months. They became the topic of discussion at every party and social gathering. People were talking about both: their unique product and their mission.
The most successful startup ever on Shark Tank
A key inflection point in their journey was being invited to Shark Tank. Bombas pitched their idea on Shark Tank Season 6 in 2014. Only one of the sharks, Daymond John, took a bet on them. Selling $9-12 socks with the obligation of giving one away for free did not seem like a good business to the others. Daymond took a bet on their passion and it became the best investment in Shark Tank history.
Being able to tell their story on TV was just what the team needed at the time. Their unique narrative of reinventing socks (of all things) while helping the homeless, caught on like wildfire. Bombas did >$1 Mn in sales in the next 2 months and sold out of its inventory.
But how? Story first, sales will follow
Leveraged a new unexplored channel - Facebook advertising (back in 2013)
In 2013, Facebook advertising was still in its early days. Brands were still divided on whether it worked. Bombas realized its power as an effective medium for storytelling, leading to sales. They took a bet and doubled down on it. They were spending $2-$3 as CAC at the time.
Kept experimenting on unconventional channels even without raising a ton of capital
They realized storytelling mediums worked best for them.
Podcasts and Radio shows were the obvious next.
“Shoppers’ trust in Bombas grows when they hear their favorite hosts rave about the socks and the company’s mission. All the data we have suggests that podcasts are profitable for us” – Kate Huyett, CMO
Then came YouTube and TV ads. Video as a medium turned out to be the next inflection point as it helped communicate products' unique make and quality the best.
Selective with their offline store partnerships
Even when they started exploring offline channels, they prioritized being able to tell their story over being in most shelf spaces. They only worked with stores that allowed their employees to be trained by Bombas or let them keep a screen with videos playing. They particularly focused on stores that attracted high-value customers.
Unique product design built for instant brand recall
All Bombas socks have a characteristic hexagonal structure at the midfoot. Beyond being a functional addition providing much-needed support to the midfoot, it became a characteristic of their product. The beehive shapes led to an instant recall of the brand (remember Bombas means bees). This helped them massively in accelerating word of mouth.
No questions asked return policy
They differentiated on building a unique return and exchange policy which became fodder for several fun marketing campaigns. This became an important lever to build trust with their customers (back then D2C was also still early in the US).
They only expanded beyond socks in 2019, showing the power of their sharp positioning and high NPS
It's hard to imagine a category like socks being so deep that it allowed them to scale to $100 Mn+ by 2018. But their unique product, story, and experimental marketing strategy allowed them to keep scaling. Only in 2019, did they launch t-shirts and then underwear in the subsequent year.
True to their core story of helping the homeless, they chose these categories as they were the #2 and #3 demanded products in these shelters.
With these new categories live, they have a much larger TAM to keep growing at the current rate. They are also exploring an IPO in 2022 to open up a long-term capital source for the business.
They have already proven that doing good is not vanity but actually a good business. It will be exciting to see this altruistic sock brand become a broader lifestyle brand.