Hackernoon logoHow we bootstrapped an apparel business while working as programmers full-time by@juliansamarjiev

How we bootstrapped an apparel business while working as programmers full-time

Author profile picture

@juliansamarjievJulian Samarjiev

Entering an industry with zero experience

Our first attempts at product photography and the images we launched with. We call it “Ghost Shirts” 👻

The idea to make a dress shirt that looks sharp but requires little no care at all, immediately resonated with me, as soon as Marin, my co-founder and ex-high school classmate, mentioned it on Google Hangouts.

He was on a trip back to our home country of Bulgaria when it all started making sense to us. We started thinking about ways we can leverage the expertise and traditions the country has in tailoring and commit to seeing this idea through. We saw a great opportunity to combine affordable production costs, great quality and a way to give back and reconnect to our roots.

A few months back we heard an advertisement on a popular US podcast, about a company in America that has started using sport performance fabrics to make dress shirts. We were very intrigued by the idea of turning the dress shirt into a hassle-free experience and following the notion of “scratching your own itch”, we wanted to create the product for ourselves and hopefully find a market of other people who might also want it. That’s how the idea for DULO was born.

Humble Beginnings

The product immediately caught our attention, but given all the import duties and shipping costs, we never ended up purchasing one, but it did stay in the back of our minds.

At the time we were both based in Amsterdam and working as programmers full-time (still are) and had some savings that we’d use to bootstrap and self-fund the initial production.

We were also inspired by Gary Vee’s concept of “Document vs create”, so we started documenting our journey from day 1.

And by day 1, I really mean day 1. We’ve spent countless hours working on our content strategy and production in order to document every single step. This is how we built our community from the ground up and one of the biggest reasons why after launch we managed get $2000 in revenue only in the first month without no investors. Our blog is a detailed directory and a guide about how anyone who’s passionate about an idea can start a business from scratch.

Zero experience in manufacturing

So, after we decided to fully commit and execute on the idea, it was time to actually find out whether creating this product back home would be possible.

We went through a few online directories of companies in apparel manufacturing, reached out to the most relevant ones, also the ones that had either a website, or an email, you’d be surprised how many didn’t, and we lined up as many meetings as we can, within the timespan of a week, that we can take off from our jobs and fly back to meet and talk to people that could help us start this process.

The tricky thing was that we didn’t even know what we are looking for. Is it companies that use those fabrics, or companies that create them? Is it companies that make dress shirts, or can we make them anywhere, as long as we have the fabrics?

Most of the first meetings we had, people were confused as to what we are trying to do and why we wanted to do it. Nevertheless, with each talk, we learned more and more about the industry and the processes within it. We had a somewhat clear vision of what the product should look like and what properties it needs to have, so we used those conversations to start piecing the puzzle as to how we can tackle it.

Our first ever meeting was in that white caravan at the back of this posh scene.

None of the companies/people we met with confirmed that they can either create the product or at least find the required technological fabrics, besides one.

Sidenote to everyone that might be hesitant about starting their own thing.

Don’t be afraid to jump into something you have zero experience in, learn by doing and create relationships and environment where people/partners can cover your weaknesses, while you focus on your strengths.

Sometimes less options is better

It was nearing the end of our trip, we only had one apparent option and we had nothing to lose. They agreed to proceed and make some samples for us. Fast forward a few months, we made our second trip back home to see the first samples and to be honest it was quite exciting. It was going to be the first time we see a physical manifestation of our vision.

Yes. That colour. I know.

The key thing was always going to be the fabric and even though the colour was atrocious, the material seemed to behave the way we envisioned it. They looked like a normal cotton dress shirt from afar, but you could feel the softness and fluidity on touch.

Not really having any other options for manufacturing, we shook hands and decided to proceed and make a few rounds of prototypes that we ended up giving away at each round, gathering feedback and iterating for the next.

After three rounds of iterations, back and forth, we finally felt we had the required quality to put a premium product on the market.

We still didn’t have a name for the brand, but we wanted it to come naturally at some point during the process. We have a blog post dedicated to how we stopped on DULO here, do check it out if you are interested.

Often the best decisions come after having the patience to wait for them to emerge out of the process, gaining clarity by going through it and doing.

Quite a long story short, we launched our website on the 1st of November and managed to make 2k EUR in our first month.

Takeaway time

  • Putting out content from day 1 allowed us to build (even if it was a small one) an audience prior to launch. Anything beats launching to crickets ;)
  • Three rounds of prototypes and about 60 shirts given away to testers resulted in sales once we launched, as well as feedback that helped us iterate, improve and get the product market ready.
On set of our first ever professional product shoot. We did two DIY ones with a total budget of $200 before this one. It was about time we invested in a proper one :)
  • This also served as a great data point that people who interacted with the product liked it and were willing to pay for it. It was a great morale booster and a proof of concept for our product.
  • Expect to launch on a high and then have a few months of a reality check. Persisting through that we are now starting to see organic growth, both in terms of sales, as well as people following our content.
  • We are not spending much $ on digital advertising, but rather focusing on creating content in the form of a podcast, vlog, and a blog, as well as sending out free shirts to entrepreneurs that we look up to and want to associate with DULO, AKA influencer marketing.

We want to create a brand that encourages and promotes entrepreneurship and the fact that we managed to get this thing off the ground without any external investment and without ANY experience in the industry, is a testament that many more people can do it, as long as they decide to commit to an idea and most importantly put in the work, on a consistent basis, for a long time.

For anyone out there thinking about starting, stock on patience and discipline and just START! You’ll figure it out along the way, even if at first you don’t figure it out, failures are just data points you can build on top of and keep moving.


The Noonification banner

Subscribe to get your daily round-up of top tech stories!