Dennis Scully: From our headquarters in New York City this is Business of Home. I'm your host Dennis Scully. Every week I'll be talking to leaders and innovators from all corners of the home industry. I hope you'll join me.
Dennis Scully: We'd like to thank our friends at Fuigo for sponsoring this episode. In case you're unfamiliar or have been living under a coffee table. Hey, we don't blame you. Fuigo is the industry's most comprehensive project management software for design professionals. Meticulously developed alongside designers like you, Fuigo is tailored to the way you work and built to foster your success. Learn more at Fuigo.com. That's F-U-I-G-O.com. And now on with the show.
Dennis Scully: My guest this week is Nicole Gibbons, founder and CEO of the newly launched Clare.
Nicole Gibbons: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Dennis Scully: Well, thank you for having us. We're actually coming to you from the Clare HQ in New York City. So excited. Tell us briefly, before we get into the whole backstory, what is Clare?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. Clare is an e-commerce paint company. We've created an easier and more inspiring way to buy paint for your home. We sell paint in 55 beautifully curated colors. All the tools that you need to paint with. Plus all the tips and inspiration you need to help you get started. And we deliver everything to your door.
Dennis Scully: Excellent. And I want you to share with people who might not be familiar some of the story of sort of how you really got started.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. Absolutely. First of all, I just want to say this is such a full circle moment for me to be here, talking to you about Clare today because it's been a really long journey. So essentially I started out from birth. I grew up with a decorator mom. From the moment I was born I grew up around good design and really being passionate about design and all things home. And through my career I ended up taking a different path early on. I went to Northwestern, came out of school, worked in PR and fashion and I had a decade-long career working in PR for a huge multi-billion dollar global retailer.
Dennis Scully: Right. Victoria's Secret. That's right?
Nicole Gibbons: Victoria's Secret.
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Nicole Gibbons: Exactly. While I was at Victoria's Secret I started to design blog because I was just immersed in magazines. I subscribed to every magazine. This was in the early days of blogging, before blogging was a business and there was a thing called influencers. I think one of the early blogs there was like Apartment Therapy and maybe like one or two others and I was like I'm going to start a blog. It started out just being a creative outlet and I started immersing myself in the design community. And pretty much immediately I knew that this is the industry that I wanted to be in.
Nicole Gibbons: I wasn't thrilled with fashion. It was a great starter job. Fresh out of school and like this is fun I'll do this while I figure out what I really want to do right. But immediately, once I started surrounding myself with people and just getting a deeper dive into what the design industry really looked like I wanted to work in design and I, at the same time that I started my blog I set up an LLC and started moonlighting. I started taking on a little side hustle design project doing one room projects for friends and friends of friends and it kind of just grew from there.
Nicole Gibbons: And 2008 was definitely not a time to be quitting your day job. So, as passionate as I was about what I was doing on the side it was not a comfortable time to leave to step out on my own. I spent probably more years than I had planned to doing things on the side and really just building my name. I worked in PR so I was able to figure out how to get some recognition for what I was doing on the blog and trying to build myself into an expert in a personality.
Nicole Gibbons: And then by the time I left that job I had built up enough of a persona and enough confidence to go out and do my own thing. I wasn't interested in working for someone else. I knew that I wanted to build my own business and ultimately my goal was never to just build a design firm and be in someone's living room helping them pick up their curtains for the rest of my life. My goal was really to build a brand. I was always highly inspired by the Martha Stewart business model. I loved that she took her brand to Kmart. I thought that was really brilliant.
Nicole Gibbons: One of the things that I noticed when I started chatting with folks in the design world is that everyone aspired to have a really high end brand. Line at Barney's, licensing deal with fill-in-the-blank fabric showroom. For me, I saw the opportunity to reach the masses as being more appealing and just being able to touch more people and more homes with my design aesthetic through a sort of a larger distribution channel was always really exciting.
Nicole Gibbons: The other thing that was important to me was to build myself into a TV personality. I wanted to do television and again, be able to speak to a wider audience about design and really help people. So shortly after leaving my corporate America day job.
Dennis Scully: Okay. Let's pause there for a second. So your corporate America day job was, you were working in public relations at Victoria's Secret, right?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah.
Dennis Scully: Tell me the kinds of things that you were doing at your job at Victoria's Secret.
Nicole Gibbons: Yes.
Dennis Scully: Just so we got a sense of ...
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. I was Global Director of PR and events at Victoria's Secret.
Dennis Scully: So you had a big job.
Nicole Gibbons: I had a big role. I oversaw our beauty category. I oversaw our direct channel, which was everything, at the time when they had the catalog, everything that came from the catalog and e-commerce side of the business. And then I helped kind of pinch hit [inaudible 00:05:39] brawl launches. When the team needed help I would own a launch and work on that.
Dennis Scully: This was in Victoria's Secret's heyday? This was when Victoria's Secret was ...
Nicole Gibbons: In the heyday.
Dennis Scully: Right? Really strong brand. Fashion shows all the time.
Nicole Gibbons: When I started out it was Heidi, Tyra, Giselle, Adriana Lima. Like all of the supermodels and fresh out of college I'm like riding on private planes with Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum and doing all of these fabulous things and red carpets and runway shows.
Dennis Scully: It was a pretty heady experience.
Nicole Gibbons: It was a fun time. I worked on a lot of really exciting projects. Sort of towards the end of my tenure the company started expanding globally and so I oversaw all of our international store openings and PR and that was really fun. But underneath it all, I really had this desire though to be working in design. So I worked-
Dennis Scully: Was that mom that was giving you that desire or was that-
Nicole Gibbons: No, it was just-
Dennis Scully: What was the connection you felt to the interior design world that made you yearn to go and pursue that?
Nicole Gibbons: I just loved home. I loved decor. I loved beautiful things and just I grew up with a grandmother who had an impeccable home. She had [inaudible 00:06:48] everything. I grew up around that, the most awesome wallpaper. We had grass cloth all over our house. Our playroom, I posted a picture a long time ago on Instagram and you can probably still dig for it, but the playroom in my house when I was little, we had pink grass cloth and pink carpet. It was like the most fabulous house. So I just always-
Dennis Scully: And you grew up in Michigan?
Nicole Gibbons: I grew up in Michigan. I was born in Detroit. And I just always appreciated good design and I remember one of my first internships in college I worked at an ad agency and they had this recycle room. Everyone at the ad agency was on comp lists for every magazine you could think of and they would all end up in this room to be recycled. So at the end of work day I would go in and pull out all the design magazines. I'd literally take a backpack and take 15 pounds of magazines back home and-
Dennis Scully: And take them home.
Nicole Gibbons: ... pour through and ripping out tears and just saving the inspiration. And I just loved design. And when I started the blog and I started my LLC I wanted to talk to as many people as I could in the design world about how to get started, how to build a business, what do I need to do, what do I need to learn.
Dennis Scully: Is that a lot of what the blog was So Haute?
Nicole Gibbons: At the time, yeah. It was called So Haute and was like ...
Dennis Scully: And it was So Haute. What did you want to say in the beginning of the blog? What was the voice?
Nicole Gibbons: It was literally just a creative outlet. I just wanted to gush about all the things I loved.
Dennis Scully: So you're sharing things you've seen and you got super excited about it.
Nicole Gibbons: It was really just that. It was nothing that strategic or thought out. It was just none of my friends cared about design. So I didn't have anyone else to talk to about all the things I loved.
Dennis Scully: In your lonely room you were sharing that with the rest of the world.
Nicole Gibbons: So I got to share with people who actually cared and wanted to engage and talk about the same things and who were design nerds just like me. And that was really fun.
Dennis Scully: And you actually did get quite an impressive following in time. So how long did it take for you to be working the blog before you started to really get traction and see that people were really reading your thing?
Nicole Gibbons: I kind of saw traction immediately because I was a publicist and I knew how to get the word out. So I did like a mass emailing, and this was the days of when people had blogrolls. You remember that?
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Nicole Gibbons: Like I had everybody on my blogroll. Everybody who was on my blogroll I reached out to and was like, "Hey, I've been a big fan of your blog forever. Check out mine." I included a few press people on it and like right away I had a couple of other bloggers that wrote about my site, who were big at the time. Like Cup of Joe, who's like huge now, had like mentioned me and a few other big bloggers had mentioned me and then I'm totally blanking on the reporter's name, but she wrote a column in The Washington Post on home and she had a column called Blog Watch and she would highlight what certain bloggers were talking about on their blogs.
Dennis Scully: And she gave you a shout-out?
Nicole Gibbons: So I got written up in the Washington Post-
Dennis Scully: Wow. That's big.
Nicole Gibbons: ... and that was within like two months of launching the blog and I think like ... I never ran my blog like a business because I always had a day job. But I guess you could say I was one of the early influencers in the design space because pretty soon ... I was started getting connected with all the brands and people. I was a go-to when people wanted to share their stories, their products, their launches, invite me to things. So the blog ended up being a really important channel for me to just explore my love for design and learn the industry and meet people.
Dennis Scully: And as you said, you would go to a lot of events and start to meet a lot of people. When did you finally decide, okay, I'm going to make the leap from Victoria's Secret?
Nicole Gibbons: I knew I would make the leap eventually. So January 2013, the beginning of the year when I finally took the leap and left. Like I said, I had a plan. I didn't just leave and be like, "All right. What am I going to do now?" I talked to a million people about what to do, how to prepare. My pals, Tilton Fenwick was like ... They were like, "Be prepared to not make any money for two years." And so I left-
Dennis Scully: That's what they told you? Be prepared to not make any money for two years?
Nicole Gibbons: It's hard to build up a client base, it's hard to build your name. So I made sure that by the time I was ready to launch my business I had a really nice cushion so I didn't have to worry about fighting to get clients or if-
Dennis Scully: Okay. So you saved some money.
Nicole Gibbons: ... things didn't pan out. I had really early on, like in the 2008 days, I sat down with everybody who would take a meeting with me. One of the first ones I reached out to was Susan Betcher, who was like a long time publicist in the design world and she made so many intros.
Dennis Scully: Really? How nice.
Nicole Gibbons: She introduced me to Alexa Hampton, who talked to me on the phone, Matthew Patrick Smyth. Just a bunch of just amazing designers who built incredible businesses. So over the years from like day one of starting the blog to leaving to build my own business I had so many insights from people, who not only have done it but had done it well and done it at a really high level. And every panel discussion at the D&D building. This was before the days where you could just listen to a podcast.
Dennis Scully: Right. You actually physically had to go to your panel discussion.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. I would go to every panel and just after every panel I'd go up to the designers I admired and ask them questions and I just learned so much over those years.
Dennis Scully: Good for you. Where did that confidence come from? We were talking about this earlier, you and I, where did the confidence come from just doggedly pursue this passion of yours?
Nicole Gibbons: I honestly don't know. I think it's just innate.
Dennis Scully: Okay. It's part of your DNA.
Nicole Gibbons: It's part of my DNA. I've always been really ambitious. I've always been really driven. I'm one of those people that nothing I ever do, no matter how high of an achievement it is, is never good enough for me. So I'm almost like I have this inner drive. I'm competing with my own self to like beat my own accomplishments. And I'm also the kind of person that doesn't do anything hastily. Anytime I make a big decision it's very thoughtful. I contemplate. I research. And I get to the point where I have full confidence in whatever it is I want to go out for.
Dennis Scully: I think it's so interesting that 2008 you knew you wanted to make a change and it wasn't until 2013 that you really felt ready. That's very impressive. Most people wouldn't have the patience or frankly, the good sense, to wait that long and really plan it out as it sounds like you did.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. Well part of that was forced out of necessity because 2008, 2009 was-
Dennis Scully: Sure. The financial crisis changed everyone's plans.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. No one was really trying to ... Not a good time to start a business. It took some time to kind of get over that hump and feel like there's actually a market for my services and everything I'm trying to do. But also just saving up the money and feeling ready and all of that.
Dennis Scully: Yeah. Well that's the other thing, that you have the discipline to save some money and you recognized that you were going to need some time to live off your savings to get a business off the ground.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah.
Dennis Scully: Okay. So you launched the design business 2013, right?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah.
Dennis Scully: So then what happens?
Nicole Gibbons: My goal, when I decided to take my business full-time, was to focus first on trying to do TV because I felt like that's a harder nut to crack than getting clients. I felt like I was connected enough that I'd probably get a few clients if I hustled hard enough. But breaking into that world required a lot more connections that I didn't quite have and a lot more work. Building a reel and all of that stuff just takes time. So I actually VS and focused a lot of my energy on thinking through and really trying to nail on-camera opportunities and just try to create a brand that was larger than just my design firm.
Dennis Scully: Okay.
Nicole Gibbons: Shortly after leaving VS, through a contact that I knew in the fashion world who was working for a Condé Nast title at the time, who was just starting to dip their toe in the water of doing video. Because even in the days of 2013 that everybody was doing video like they are now. So they were working with this production company who was like, "Hey we're doing this web series for Pier 1." And asked her for a recommendation on who might be good on camera.
Nicole Gibbons: At the time I had a little bit of a reel. I had done some on camera work while I was at VS. I hosted a panel at the Pierre Frey showroom with like Nate Berkus and Steven Gambrel and Laura Kirar and I had filmed my own little lake sort of host segment about the panel where I interviewed everybody and I had done a collaboration with Target, also with Nate Berkus, when he launched his collection.
Dennis Scully: Right. I remember that.
Nicole Gibbons: I did a video project with Target and I was sort of the first person to use his products in my home. And that was a video that was promoted through all of Target's channels. I had done, I believe it was for editor at large at the Maison de Luxe show house at Graystone Mansion where I hosted a segment where I interviewed like Catherine Ireland. I had a little bit of a reel. It was a hodge podge, not so polished reel, but I had done some on camera work. And so I sent them my reel and I got booked to do this web series for Pier 1. It was a multi-day shoot, four videos about decorating with color.
Dennis Scully: Perfect.
Nicole Gibbons: How ironic that that was my first big on camera gig and. And then from there that web series ran on Pier 1's digital channels, but it also ran as interstitials on TLC. To be able to go out to rep ... I was looking for representation. So to able to say, "I just shot this web series. It's running on TLC for this big brand." People took me seriously.
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Nicole Gibbons: And I went out to LA, did a bunch of meetings with talent managers and agents and trying to see what might be the right fit or what's the right route I should even be taking they to try to do television and I'm through those meetings. I met someone who didn't end up becoming my agent by the day after we met she emailed me and said, "There's this opportunity for a show on OWN. I think you'd be great for it. Would you be interested in auditioning?" So there was a show on OWN called Home Made Simple. It as a DIY decorating show that was sponsored by Procter and Gamble. So the show is basically like a big integration for P&G products.
Dennis Scully: And we should say that, for people that might not know, that's the Oprah Winfrey Network, when Nicole referred to OWN. That's what that is.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. I forgot to leave out that part.
Dennis Scully: Just for people who might not know.
Nicole Gibbons: The Oprah Winfrey network.
Dennis Scully: Just to work Oprah's name in there.
Nicole Gibbons: Oprah used to be my boss. Just saying. But yeah. So I auditioned for that show and I got it. It was a show where there were four designers and each show a different designer owned an episode. So that first season I think I did three or four episodes and then I did similar like three or four, five episodes the two more seasons. So I was on the show for three seasons and we'd go into homes. Show filmed in LA and we would do one room budget friendly make overs for deserving families. So that was a great experience and a long-
Dennis Scully: That is a great experience. Is that a moneymaker for you? Did that help to sort of pay a lot of bills or-
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. No.
Dennis Scully: ... was that much more about you getting exposure?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. To be honest, it was more, and most TV opportunities are more about the exposure and getting your name out there. And I think it was a really great way to get my name out there and to also just build my own camera experience. To be on set for 12 hours a day for all those days straight filming a television show is like the best kind of experience you can get.
Dennis Scully: Absolutely. Incredible training.
Nicole Gibbons: Just sort of thrown into the wolves. Yeah. It's different than just hosting a segment or whatever. It's just a whole different level of performance and all of that. Yeah. So it was great experience. I did that show for three seasons, and while I was doing that show though, in between I'd be in New York working on projects, working with clients. And then I also started doing a lot of work with brands. So similar to what I did with Pier 1. I would do video projects for brands or collaborations with brands where I would talk about their products on my blog.
Nicole Gibbons: I kind of had this multifaceted business which was also something that was really important to me. One of the things that I heard when I talked to all the designers who gave me advice during the 2008, 2009 days was, it's a tough business. You need to have multiple revenue streams because we're all suffering because of the recession. So, all of the designers who were solely focused on getting clients really had a hard time keeping their businesses afloat because that was their sole revenue stream. So, for me to be able to work with brands, work on television, do all of these different things. I created a really good business. The challenge though, was that I felt like I had 17 jobs.
Dennis Scully: I was going to say. You were really being pulled in a lot of different directions.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. It was a hustle and my operation was always very small. Most of the time it was always just myself and one assistant and I was doing a lot of projects and I was owning as much as I could on a project. So if I got booked for a video shoot, I wasn't just being the talent. I'd be like, "I can do the set design." And I'd assemble a team-
Dennis Scully: Oh my goodness. You did really-
Nicole Gibbons: ... and not just host but I'd be like building the set. So I'd be there just kind of doing it all. It was awesome. It was fun, but it was a hustle. So fast forward to 2016. Or actually before that. No. Let me backtrack.
Dennis Scully: Okay.
Nicole Gibbons: I wanted to build this brand. I talked about how I loved the Martha Stewart model right. But what I realized was that for a designer the traditional way of doing things is you license your name. You get licensing deals and you build a brand that way. One of the things I realized in researching and kind of understanding how those deals are structured and I felt like the licensing landscape or that way of doing things has just changed tremendously. It's hard for people to build a brand like Martha did. No matter how big your business is or how notable you are.
Nicole Gibbons: When you looked at just how lucrative the deals were, it just wasn't what the direction I wanted to go. I realized that I wanted more ownership and what I was building. I was far more inspired by like these young people starting these really innovative companies, like the Warby Parker's of the world and the Casper's of the world. And another sort of secret that I never really talked about is I've always been interested in technology and the startup space. So I followed ... Like since the days of Napster. I think I was freshman college or really young, a senior year in high school, freshman college, Napster came out.
Dennis Scully: And you were pirating a lot of music?
Nicole Gibbons: I was pirating lots of music and I was like the kid who started Napster, like he's like basically my age. I could do something like this one day. Just that idea was inspiring.
Dennis Scully: And you were keeping that secret. So you weren't letting people know that there was an interest of yours, the technology set?
Nicole Gibbons: No one really cared, but like I was reading all the blogs. I read TechCrunch everyday and Mashable everyday. I was reading TechCrunch back when the founder, Michael Arrington, was still writing the posts.
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Nicole Gibbons: I followed what was happening in the VC space. I followed startups and I saw how the consumer landscape was shifting. I worked at a big retailer so I understood the retail landscape and how e-commerce was changing the way people buy things and also throughout my experiences in home, one of the things that I recognized is that the home industry can be kind of sleepy. I've gone to High Point. I see how it all happens the behind the scenes.
Dennis Scully: Whoa. Now wait a minute.
Nicole Gibbons: I love High Point, but I'm just saying there hasn't been as much innovation in home as there has been in other categories.
Dennis Scully: Sure. So you saw an opportunity [crosstalk 00:22:30]
Nicole Gibbons: So I saw an opportunity to do something more innovative-
Dennis Scully: With technology-
Nicole Gibbons: ... in the home space. And one of the brands that I truly admired was One Kings Lane. I think they built a fantastic brand. They did something that felt really fresh in an industry that wasn't really innovating as fast as I believe the consumer landscape was shifting.
Dennis Scully: What do you think they did so well? Because One Kings Lane created an incredible brand and they were creating tremendous content and they were so successful for a period and then of course got a little perhaps overextended with ...
Nicole Gibbons: I don't know what was happening on the business side of things. I know they had a sort of a rocky road on that front, but from a branding perspective and a consumer facing perspective they did a lot of things right. They invested in content. They really built a connection with their audience. They were inspiring. It felt fresh and different and they were trying all of these different things. They launched Hunters Alley, which was like their vintage marketplace and they were doing these like tastemaker tag sales and they were testing and trying all these different things and trying and failing and that's what you do. That's how you find your product market fit. Versus just doing the same thing and being afraid to take risks.
Nicole Gibbons: I watched how they tried all these different things, they created this really fresh brand. Their aesthetic really resonated with me. I connected with everything they put out. And just understanding, as a person who came from a blogging background too, like content is king. And I don't think at the time they launched no other home brand, even the mass market retailers that had all of the resources. None of them were really creating content in the same way One Kings Lane did and I think that's-
Dennis Scully: They were extraordinary, what they created and they had a brilliant team, Elana Frankel and others.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah.
Dennis Scully: Yeah. Amazing people that they had working with them. So that really inspired you?
Nicole Gibbons: So that really inspired me. I saw how they raised venture capital to build their business and I saw all the Warby Parker's and the Casper's and the Birchboxes and these people who were creating innovative new ways to buy things. Right?
Dennis Scully: Right.
Nicole Gibbons: And particularly in unsexy product categories like glasses and mattresses and luggage and. And I thought about what could I do at home? I was constantly thinking about what I could do in the home space that was really different and disruptive. I've been thinking about ideas all day long left and right, but none of them really stuck right. I might do a little research and be like, ah, no. That's not big enough or that's not interesting enough or I don't see that really cutting through.
Nicole Gibbons: And then in 2016 I had a light bulb moment around paint. I have sourced and specified lots of paint in my career. I've worked with every person in the paint purchasing customer chain, from the average homeowner to architects, to interior designers being one, to contractors, to professional painting companies that were high end, to like the mom-and-pop paint companies that are just like some dudes who show up with their nephew and like some tools. Right?
Dennis Scully: Right.
Nicole Gibbons: I saw all the pain points. And as someone who was really active in the media, I'd be doing interviews with publications and whatever the topic was about, they would always have a sidebar, we're working on a story about what the best paint colors are for our readers. What's your favorite white? What's your favorite gray? People were constantly asking me for help because the process of buying paint was so daunting and I noticed that both from a consumer side, just everyday people, my friends, my family.
Nicole Gibbons: Obviously my clients didn't have a hard time because they had an expert picking paint colors for them. And that's what I realized, is like when people have that design guidance they didn't actually have such a painful experience, but when they were left on their own to figure it all out, shopping for paint was really difficult and just the fact that even down to the biggest media publications devote pages in their magazines to trying to edit the overwhelming selection of colors down for the readers. I saw that and I thought about it and I thought that that would be the perfect opportunity.
Nicole Gibbons: And as a designer I really love color. I love using color in fresh ways in my work. So color is something that really resonated with me. It's the most sort of cliche line, but it's the easiest and least expensive way to transform the look of your home.
Dennis Scully: Is the change of color.
Nicole Gibbons: Is to change the color, change or to repaint. And when you look at some of the other product categories in home maybe it's like a lower purchase frequency or even if you buy furniture and you move, you'll take your furniture with you. You're not going to buy all new furniture when you move, but you will repaint. And I know that people consume a lot of paint. People buy it in high volumes. I knew the paint companies had ridiculous market caps and were really solid businesses.
Nicole Gibbons: Once I started diving deeper into the market dynamics, I really felt like this was an industry that made sense to try and tackle and that I had the perfect combination of skills and experiences to be the one to take advantage of the opportunity, from my retail background to my work as a designer and a design expert and channeling all that through this brand. And 2016 though, was a crazy year for my business. I was doing so many projects. It was like a kick ass year. And can we curse on ...
Dennis Scully: Sure. Go ahead.
Nicole Gibbons: I'm sorry. I really didn't have time to build the idea. I just thought about it. So I thought about Clare-
Dennis Scully: So paint was just always on your mind?
Nicole Gibbons: Paint was on my mind. This business was on my mind. Every time someone was like, "Oh my god, Nicole helped me pick a paint color." I'm like, "I really need to do this business." So I thought about it for a year and I thought about how I would build it, how I would go about it, what I needed to do and the year kind of went on. And then what happens on New Year's Day, New Year's Eve. New dawn. New year.
Dennis Scully: Sure. There's resolutions. This is what I'm going to focus on in the coming year.
Nicole Gibbons: You start thinking about, "What am I doing with my life this year?" So I reflected back on 2016, which was a good year, but I was doing a lot of different things. I wasn't doing exactly what really moved me in my business. I really enjoyed designing, but I wasn't getting the kind of clients that I really felt like I needed to do the kind of work that I really wanted to showcase. Like I said, I had 17 jobs. I was over here working with this friend, over here filming this TV show-
Dennis Scully: Joining the shows.
Nicole Gibbons: I felt like my-
Dennis Scully: You're making a lot of appearances.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. It was just a constant hustle and scramble and I really wanted to focus on doing one thing really well and I really felt like there's no better time than now then to pursue this opportunity because I'm at a place in my life where I don't have any real obligations. No kids. Nothing like that.
Dennis Scully: Perfect time.
Nicole Gibbons: I decided to focus on building out this idea. So I spent January researching the market. The top of February, I started having conversations with folks in the industry, but also I had one conversation with the VC and those couple early conversations gave me all the confidence I needed to say, "Okay, I'm comfortable not working for a while to see what can materialize if I really focus on this."
Dennis Scully: When you first met with a venture capitalist, what was it you described that you were working on? What was your idea, as you articulated it?
Nicole Gibbons: So it was literally just an idea at that point. I'm a member of this all women's coworking space called The Wing.
Dennis Scully: The Wing, which I so wish I could belong to, but as you say, all women.
Nicole Gibbons: I know. No boys allowed. I'm sorry.
Dennis Scully: Yes. That's my pain point right there.
Nicole Gibbons: I love The Wing. At the time they would do these office hours. You could sign up for 20 minutes with someone and be like, "You want to start a beauty brand? Meet with the founder of so-and-so." And they advertised this one, "Have an idea? Working on a business? Want to raise capital? Sign up for 20 minutes with this VC. This woman Susan Lyne."
Dennis Scully: Who, we should point out, Susan Lyne, who used to run Martha Stewart, among many companies that she has run.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. And honestly at the time I didn't realize how deep she understood the home industry. I just was like, I'm signing up with this VC who has this amazing media background and champions female founders. That was kind of as much as I knew. So I signed up. I got 20 minutes with her. I had a one page slide and my idea and I said like, "Here's this idea I have. I have decided to pursue this business. This is where I think it could go. This is the vision that I have for building this brand. And I know I need to raise capital to do it because I can't bootstrap this man." It's a very capital-intensive endeavor.
Nicole Gibbons: She gave me some really solid advice and not only did she give me advice, she said, "When you are ready I'd love to meet with you again." And obviously she didn't end up investing, but just her early interest and confidence. I'm like, "Okay, if she thinks this is an interesting enough business idea, I know that I can convince other investors to invest in this company." So one of the things that I knew was that it would be really hard to raise money off of an idea.
Dennis Scully: Right. Without a product.
Nicole Gibbons: Without a product. But I know that in the world of consumer goods your supply chain is everything. I've focused the rest of my time ... So that was like first week in February where I started having those conversations and I said, "Okay. Before I talk to investors, I need to really build out a foundation for my business." So I spent my time learning the market and meeting with suppliers and really building out our supply chain architecture and making sure that there was a foundation in place, that I had cost. I knew exactly what it was going to cost. You can't raise capital without a solid financial model and real smart assumptions about what's going to happen.
Nicole Gibbons: By the time I actually went to raise capital not only did I have all of the suppliers for every physical product that we sell today. I had a solid business model around unit economics and how the business would work, but also a really strong idea for how I would market this brand and how we would really differentiate ourselves from a brand and marketing perspective.
Dennis Scully: So how did you go about learning supply chain for a paint company? I mean, how did you even figure that out?
Nicole Gibbons: I do have the background of having worked for a big retailer. So I understand just all the basic functions of how an organization like this should run. I think I, I don't know, innately understand what I needed to do to learn. All right. So I went to trade shows. I talked to people. I just talked to as many people as I could.
Dennis Scully: Right. You took as many meetings as you could.
Nicole Gibbons: Took as many meetings. Cold calls. Everything you could think of.
Dennis Scully: Were you meeting with chemical companies or paint companies?
Nicole Gibbons: I was meeting with chemical companies, paint companies, raw materials suppliers. Like every person in the chain that you can think right to learn and to figure out how I want to go about doing things.
Dennis Scully: What was their reaction when you were talking about? Did you sort of share your idea or were you nervous about kind of putting your idea out there with people?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. I wasn't really talking to competitive companies so I wasn't concerned about someone's gonna steal my idea or anything like that. But I shared as much as I needed to with the right people who needed to know.
Dennis Scully: And then what was their response?
Nicole Gibbons: One of the first conversations I had, around the same time that I met with Susan Lyne, was with someone who works in the R&D space for one of the biggest raw material suppliers for the paint industry.
Dennis Scully: Okay. So big chemical companies.
Nicole Gibbons: And the person that I talked to there said to me, "I know every single ingredient in a can of paint and even I hate shopping for paint. So I think you're onto something."
Dennis Scully: You've got a good idea.
Nicole Gibbons: And that was a really strong vote of confidence. Here's someone who works in the R&D space, who has a ton of experience working with all the major players and who feels like there is a need for some disruption in the industry and a better way of doing things. So the incumbents who dominate the paint market are one to two hundred year old companies who have never changed the way they distribute, create or market their products.
Nicole Gibbons: And this is 2018. The consumer landscape has shifted and people are increasingly comfortable buying things online, yet paint is one of the things that you really can't buy online. There's no easy way to buy it. You've got to go to a big box retailer right. You've got to stare up at a wall of 6,000 colors literally, because a typical brand has an average of 3,000 colors. You've got to try to narrow those down to the one color you're looking for. There's no one to help you. Maybe a dude in a vest who might tell you a little bit about paint, but they're I'm going to help you pick the perfect color for your bedroom.
Nicole Gibbons: Then sampling. Most people want to test a color before they buy it. To sample colors the old way you've got to go to the store. So most people take a trip to the store just to get free paint chips. They take those home. They narrow them down because sampling is an investment. So they narrow them down to three or five colors they want to test. They go back to the store, they buy a little sample pots, they buy cheap tools. They go back home. They paint swatches onto their wall, wait for them to dry, stare at them for two weeks, get confused. And thus begins this whole back and-
Dennis Scully: Terrible process.
Nicole Gibbons: ... convoluted process. It's a miserable customer journey. It doesn't need to be so complicated right. The secret that most people don't know and designers aren't choosing from thousands of colors. We curate our favorites.
Dennis Scully: Sure. You've got a very edited palette of what you-
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. You ask any designer what their favorite colors are and they have a short list of go-to favorites that they've tried and tested in love and can tell you what they look like under any light source. And this looks great in this room and this direction. We have had it edited down already. That's why magazines are always asking designers for their paint color recommendations. So, why hasn't a paint company taken this designer-led approach to not just color curation, but the whole experience?
Nicole Gibbons: I've made it my life's work to help people make their homes beautiful. I know all the pain points of home improvement. I know how challenging this is for people both when they're hiring professionals and working with the fanciest contractors to what it's like when they're doing it themselves. And I just saw a way to simplify the whole process, take a really cumbersome customer journey, a product category that's unsexy, a product that's difficult to shop for and just make it easy and design a business, design a paint company that was made for the way people are actually shopping today. So that's that's why I created Clare and here we are.
Dennis Scully: That's Clare.
Dennis Scully: We're going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsor, but we'll be right back. To stand out in this crowded industry you need more than a love of design. You need strategy, sales, marketing and other things they don't teach you in design school. This episode is brought to you by Fuigo, whose mission is to empower the design trade. Fuigo believes that business and art can and must coexist and they've built a platform to make that happen. Learn more at Fuigo.com. And now back to the show.
Dennis Scully: Okay. So you went to all these trade shows. You're talking to all of these people. You've got this great idea. It is ready to go, but now you've got to go out and raise money for it, right?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah.
Dennis Scully: So you've got to take ... So you had a early meeting with Susan Lyne and she was very encouraging, but now you've got to go and meet with would-be investors. When did that first start to happen?
Nicole Gibbons: By the time summer rolled around a few people knew what I was working on and so they'd be like, "You need to meet with this person. You need to meet with that person." I wasn't ready to fund raise. I didn't have my deck done. I wasn't-
Dennis Scully: Okay. So you were still working on putting all the materials together-
Nicole Gibbons: I wasn't confident in my financial model just yet, but I took a few early meetings, also got a lot of encouraging feedback. Had a first draft of the deck that I felt good enough sharing with VP people. I spent a ton of time preparing the financial model. Business finance was not a strong suit.
Dennis Scully: I was going to say you needed to bring in some help for that I'm sure.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. This analyst that I met helped me really think through the model and think through ... Just I really needed to understand what all the key drivers would of be the business and make sure I felt confident in that before I went out and talked to investors. If they were gonna grill me on, what's all the different metrics and whatever, I needed to know it inside and out. So by the time I went to raise capital I knew the business inside and out. I knew the numbers. I had a really thoughtful plan for how I would execute. And even though, when you do a model, obviously like we had a really good read on all the cost of goods, all the operating expenses.
Nicole Gibbons: But in terms of revenue, those were all assumptions because we don't have actual customers yet. But I made really smart thoughtful assumptions and I think when you're raising money at this early stage, that's all investors want to know. They want to know that you have a plan and that you've made really smart assumptions around the business. It doesn't matter if your assumptions are right or wrong because it's all a learning. You're not going to really know until you have actual customers. So the best thing that you can do is just make educated guesses around those assumptions. But I think I was super prepared and I really started fundraising in earnest in the fall.
Dennis Scully: In the fall of '17?
Nicole Gibbons: Sorry. September. I really wanted to start in August, but everybody in the world was on vacation.
Dennis Scully: Everybody was still away.
Nicole Gibbons: So it was hard to get meetings and stuff. I might have had like one or two meetings in August, but I didn't really start kicking it off until September. And September I was doing like 5, 10 meetings a week.
Dennis Scully: Oh really? So 5 or 10 meetings a week?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. I went from having like two or three in the month to like hitting the road on a road show, pitching clients.
Dennis Scully: So how did the meetings go? What was that like?
Nicole Gibbons: I had never been in that environment where I'm pitching a VC asking for money, but I spent my whole life pitching things as a PR person. So I really understood the art of storytelling. I really understood just how to sell something and also I had the confidence. I lacked no confidence in what I was doing. So I think that also helped a ton when I was sitting in the room. No one wants to invest in someone who isn't quite sure about their own idea or doesn't quite know what they want. So I went in to those rooms to super prepared fully confident in the vision but also fully confident in just how I would execute.
Nicole Gibbons: The statistics say that most people who you pitch are gonna say no. You're not going to get 100% of the investors on board, but what I realized ... So early on I talked to a bunch of other people who raised capital and typically if a VC is not interested they're gonna say no right away because they want to waste their time or yours. So no one was really telling me to beat it. I'd pitch or I'd get these intros on email or whatever and everybody was really interested to hear about the business.
Dennis Scully: So they wanted to see the presentation and hear from you. Interesting.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. I think number one, my background probably helped a ton. Just the fact that I come from a decade long retail experience and am an interior designer and have this sort of media persona I think was really compelling, but also it was a market that they were sleeping on. VC's are smart. They're in the know. They want to know about every hot deal in every hot market. And when I went in to talk about paint like, "I had no idea the paint market was this huge. Never thought about it, but holy shit it, paint is everywhere." Sorry.
Dennis Scully: See, now that right there ... Come on.
Nicole Gibbons: I'm sorry. Do you need me to start that question over? Sorry.
Dennis Scully: No. No. We're totally okay.
Nicole Gibbons: That's how I roll.
Dennis Scully: Yeah. So they've discovered how big the market was and how big the potential was and they were so excited. Right?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. When I first started talking to investors they were just sort of shocked at how big the paint market was. So I think that helped make the pitch really compelling. And when I would have these meetings I would get called back or I would get further increase. When an investor wants to dive deeper into your business or they want to take a look at the model you know there's interest. So even the ones who ended up passing off the bat. So many investors wanted to dig a little deeper and that was also really encouraging and while most of the people I pitched didn't end up investing, every pitch, every meeting that I took, even if it didn't materialize, I learned something.
Nicole Gibbons: From the questions that they answered I knew how to nail it better the next time or maybe there was something I hadn't thought of. So with every meeting I feel like my pitch got stronger and stronger and then by the time I got in the room with the right folks I ended up with like the most amazing investors anyone could ask for, for an early stage company.
Dennis Scully: I was going to say. And please feel free to namedrop. I mean you had some very impressive investors come on early on.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah.
Dennis Scully: So tell us about that.
Nicole Gibbons: First Round Capital is our biggest investor. They are as A-list as it gets in early stage investing. They were early investors in Uber, Mint.com, Warby Parker, Birchbox. Just some of the best companies across all sectors that you could ever imagine. I come from a fashion background and so Imaginary Ventures, which is a new fund that was founded by Natalie Massenet, who founded Net-a-Porter, invested in that was so exciting for me because I really admired the business that Natalie built. She built Net-a-Porter into a billion dollar e-commerce business. I was a customer and I know that she knows what she's doing and she assembled an amazing team with Nick Brown and Kelly at Imaginary, who I think saw the potential in this business. So they're fantastic.
Nicole Gibbons: Bullish. Bullish is an amazing fund. They've been such great partners. They are one part marketing creative agency and one part investment fund. So they have only invested in winning consumer companies, Warby Parker, Casper, Birchbox, Peloton Bikes, Harry's. All the best. And even the guys from Harry's, Jeff and Andy, the co-founders of Harry's ended up angel investing, as did Neil and Luke, two of the five Casper co-founders. So to have them as partners is just incredible.
Dennis Scully: That's fantastic. And were any of these figures sort of mentors for you, kind of helping you through the process? Was anyone sort of guiding you? Because this was all very new to you, going out and pitching to VCs.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. I really didn't have a mentor per se, but I had some people in my life who were friends who just gave me a lot of advice through the process. So one person, Jean at Sweeten.
Dennis Scully: Jean Brownhill. Lovely. Smart.
Nicole Gibbons: Jean sat down, looked at my pitch deck, gave me feedback, helped me navigate just some of the conversations I was having if I had a question or whatever. So people like her, she's been really successful in raising capital for her business Sweeten and she's built an amazing brand. And other folks that I know who've been there.
Dennis Scully: I think that's a great partnership too, for the future. Sweeten and Clare.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. Hey Jean, let's talk.
Dennis Scully: There's a fit there. I'm just saying.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. I was just lucky to have other founders that I knew that were there for me for advice as I sort of tried to navigate the process.
Dennis Scully: That's really great because it can be very overwhelming. You're all very excited about it now but I'm sure when people weren't coming in ... It's sort of like auditioning in acting. You don't get the part. You don't get the part. And it's hard to stay motivated and positive about it. Right?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. You got to have a really thick skin and I think like coming from a world where I did do a lot of TV auditioning I understood innately mainly like when you audition for a show and they've got one role the cast and they're looking at 50 designers, there's a chance that you're not going to get it. And I'm not right for every opportunity and every opportunity is not right for me. And so I don't take the no is like rejection and feel just dejected by it. I take it as like, this isn't the right opportunity. There's going to be something else.
Nicole Gibbons: I had that same attitude when I was fundraising. I never felt downtrodden when an investor said no. Hearing that feedback didn't slow my step at all. I think that's the attitude that you need to have. It's hard when you hear a lot of people saying no and particularly when you've invested your whole life and all of your passion and energy into something.
Dennis Scully: And you're really putting yourself out there in front of these people. Everything that you've been working on, everything that you're hoping for. How much were you asking for in the beginning? I mean, was there ...
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. A lot of times when you hear startups you hear these stories. It's like we started in our dorm room or we sold glasses out of our apartment and we were really scrappy about things, but a lot of times when these people are starting these companies are young, they're fresh out of school. I'm a more mature woman. I've reached a certain point. I've done a lot of things the right way. I worked in a big retail organization. So while we're certainly still a scrappy company there were just some things that I knew I didn't want to compromise on and I had like a really high level of standards for certain things.
Nicole Gibbons: So I had determined the amount of money that I needed to build the kind of company that I felt confident in plus a cushion. So initially I thought I was going raise 2.3 million. And in talking to some other founders and getting advice they were kind of like, raise as little as you need to, to execute your vision. You'll end up giving up less equity blah, blah, blah. I then sort of back-pedalled my fundraising ask. I did the math and I figured like what's the minimum I could launch this company with to feel confident and I took that down to 1.6. Ran the numbers and everything and it all kind of worked out. It was based on really conservative assumptions. I went out raising one point six million dollars. But then I ended up with an oversubscribed round of 2 million and here we are.
Dennis Scully: Because people wanted to come in before the round closed?
Nicole Gibbons: People wanted to come in and I got a couple really big checks that came in. And I was happy to take the extra money because that's where I wanted to be in the first place. I started out attempting to raise 1.6 and raised two million.
Dennis Scully: And raised two million dollars. So what were you assuming the first year was going to look like for Clare? What were you looking out and seeing?
Nicole Gibbons: The first year was really about learning right because I spent all this time and energy researching, creating all these assumptions around what would happen when we launched, but seeing it actually happened and being able to learn from that and react to that and be nimble to adapt to what our customers want. The first year was and is, because we launched just a short time ago, but it's really about-
Dennis Scully: When did you officially launch?
Nicole Gibbons: We launched in July 31st.
Dennis Scully: July 31st. Okay.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. So we're brand new-
Dennis Scully: Brand new.
Nicole Gibbons: ... and we're learning so much and it's been so fun.
Dennis Scully: I'm sure.
Nicole Gibbons: That's been so fun.
Dennis Scully: I'm sure. It's incredible.
Nicole Gibbons: And like just letting our customers inform the direction of where our company is headed. Obviously we have plans for future growth and things like that and where we want to go up from a big picture perspective, but it all revolves around customer needs and customer wants and where our customers are located in all of those things. We have software that we use to manage all of our customer inquires and I'm actually in the software every day responding to customers-
Dennis Scully: Oh, that's great.
Nicole Gibbons: ... and answering their questions and chatting with them on social media and seeing how excited people are about getting their samples. We have innovated around the sampling process. I think I talked about the customer journey and how cumbersome the old way is, but I didn't like about all the ways we're simplifying it. We've developed these peel and stick color samples, we call them our Perfect Color Swatch and it's literally like a sticker. It's an 8x8 square that you peel off a piece of film and stick it on the wall just like a sticker. It's one step. No mess. You can see exactly what the color looks like in your home. You don't have to go back and forth to the store. You don't have to literally watch paint dry. It's so easy.
Dennis Scully: So you can order samples online. So how many crack and peel samples can you get online?
Nicole Gibbons: We're offering three free right now as sort of like a launch promo. After that they're two dollars each, which is less than what color samples cost in a store in the old way. And they're easier. They're easier to work with. They're faster. It saves the customer so much time. It saves them a ton of steps and we mail them to the customers in this really fun packaging. Samples come in a little folder inside a bright envelope that says, "Hey Hugh." Because we love paint puns over here at Clare.
Nicole Gibbons: We wanted everything to be an experience. So even just the process of getting your samples is like a little unboxing moment and people have been sharing their yellow Hey Hugh envelopes on Instagram and really just so excited to get their samples in the mail. So, that's been super fun to see.
Dennis Scully: Yes. We received some samples in the Business of Home office so we were very excited about. So, that's the early stage is. So you're starting to see people ordering samples and kind of sharing their experience. You've also got sort of an AI driven program on the site that helps you with color.
Nicole Gibbons: Yes. We created Clare Color Genius. It's an algorithm-based questionnaire that asks you the same types of questions and criteria that an interior designer would assess if they were helping you pick a paint color. One of the most important criteria is your lighting. And people don't understand all the nuances around lighting and how that impacts color perception, but it's literally the most important thing. So we ask you questions like, where is your primary light source coming from? How much natural light do you get? We ask about what room you're painting? What color is the existing furniture in your space? And we take all of this criteria and inputs that the customers give us about their space and we use that to deliver a personalized color recommendation that we believe they'll love.
Dennis Scully: That's great.
Nicole Gibbons: So everybody gets one sort of top choice pick and then there's always two other options that we think they might like as well. People have been loving the quiz. Half the people on our site are completing that quiz.
Dennis Scully: Half the people that come to the site are completing the quiz?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah.
Dennis Scully: Wow.
Nicole Gibbons: I think that people really love that and then we're hearing from customers about other things they would love to see. And so we're already building onto the quiz experience and we're already working on implementing new changes to make it even better. And I think that's the advantage that we have as a startup, is we're a small team. We're really scrappy. We can be super nimble. We can get an email from a customer today and like make a change depending on what it is like right away.
Dennis Scully: That's fantastic. Who is sort of running the website for you and kind of managing all of that?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. We have an awesome team. They're based here in New York. Sometimes they're here in the office with us, but usually they're not. But we're on direct dial, email, Slack, a phone call. So particularly given that we've just launched it's really high touch right now so they're pretty much at our call for anything we need.
Dennis Scully: I'm sure. Were there shipping challenges with paint? What are some of the challenges with just sending people paint?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. So there really aren't any. A lot of people are like, "Oh, it's Hazmat." But it's not. Most typical household paint is water-based and our paint is that very eco conscious. We're Zero VOC, GREENGUARD Gold certified and all of that. but being a water-based paint and not a solvent or oil-based paint, it's not flammable. So you don't have the hazard. It's actually more of a challenge ship perfume or something that has a high alcohol content like that then is to ship paint. The biggest challenge is that it's heavy, but shipping scale. When you're doing a lot of volume your shipping costs go down and we were really aggressive with our negotiations on our shipping rate. So we're doing all right there.
Dennis Scully: Do you have a primary shipper that you negotiated with or?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. Our paint ships UPS and right now our samples ship with USPS.
Dennis Scully: Okay. Yeah. So that's easy for people to use. And do people have a return policy if they've made a mistake or like how does that work?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. So we have what's called the Clare Promise, which is essentially promise to our customers that if you're not happy for any reason, contact us we'll make it right. We really want to make sure our customers have an amazing experience. If they experience any issue at all, we're here for them.
Dennis Scully: That's fantastic. And so when people order the paint you send a whole kit with it in the beginning, right?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. Well the kit is optional. You have to purchase it. So it doesn't come free with paint, but we do make it really easy to pair all of the tools that you need to paint with. That was another pain point that I realized in the old customer journey is, even once you've gone through the process of picking your color. You go to the store, you've got to wait in line to get your paint mix and then you've got to go to this tool aisle, which is just as confusing as the color aisle because there's a million different options for paint brushes, roller covers, kits.
Nicole Gibbons: Often what they do is they try to sell you ... Like if you go to the big box stores they'll say, "Oh, just buy this 12.99 kit. It's got everything you need to paint." And as a customer you're like, "Oh great. Okay. Cool. I'll buy that." But what they're not telling you is that those kits have often the lowest quality materials. Usually people are buying a more premium paint these days and I liken the analogy to putting cheap gas in your fancy car. You're not going to get the same performance if you use low quality tools with your premium paint.
Dennis Scully: Along the way, what's been the biggest challenge for you in getting it going?
Nicole Gibbons: Someone asked me this the other day. I don't think I've encountered a-
Dennis Scully: No challenges.
Nicole Gibbons: ... ton of hurdles. Not that there's no challenges, but nothing that's insurmountable. Nothing there is not solve for right. I think the biggest challenge for us is just going to be how do we cut through when you have these dominant players that have been doing this for 100 years and have way more marketing spend. We're just so focused on our customer right now. So I think as long as we deliver on an amazing customer experience, I think we'll do okay. Another person that I've always admired so much is Jeff Bezos and his maniacal focus.
Dennis Scully: Amazon founder.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos. He's been maniacally focused on delivering on customer experience and I think that's why Amazon is dominating. With the paint category specifically, that was also something that I saw that was lacking. Paint customers aren't really speaking directly to their end users because their customer is the big box retailers, the independent hardware stores and the dealers. They're not really speaking directly to the person who is buying the paint who just wants to paint the bedroom. So there is a huge disconnect there. And with us, we have advantage because we own our direct line to the customer rather and we can get that immediate feedback from them and just be way more nimble to serve them. We don't exist without our customers.
Dennis Scully: Sure. How much time did you anticipate having on your own in this space before some of the big players sort of wake up and say, "Oh, I see this Clare brand has come along and they're doing e-commerce and they've got 55 colors that they've brilliantly edited." How much time were you thinking you had to really get this going before you had to worry about them getting in your grill?
Nicole Gibbons: I wasn't really worried about anybody getting in my grill. I know that competition is inevitable. So I have been solely focused on building the strongest brand that I can and building up defensibility that way. You build a brand that customers love and you do all the things that are right by them and also I think building elements of virality into your brands so that people will share your story for you. That's just the best that we can do. I didn't want to come out the gate trying to worry about competing with other companies. I wanted to come out of the gate with a real point of differentiation and a focus on-
Dennis Scully: And stick to that.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. Just to focus on how we're doing things and doing everything in a fresh, new and different way.
Dennis Scully: And because you have such a strong PR background, you had a really strong launch. So suddenly Clare was everywhere. It was in Architectural Digest, in Elle Décor. And you were on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and you were everywhere and it was fantastic and very well done. So congratulations on that.
Nicole Gibbons: Thank you.
Dennis Scully: How do you keep that kind of momentum going in terms of your marketing spend, in terms of what you do to build that brand? How do you build on all of that energy? There's all these great stories out there right now about the Warby Parker of paint. And it's incredibly exciting. And how do you keep that momentum going?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. I think we're gonna continue pounding the PR machine. We're gonna continue working that channel. I think, as someone who comes from a PR background, I understand how important organic growth is for a business, particularly consumer business. I think with direct to consumer companies, we're seeing a lot of these companies are so heavily layered on paid acquisition to get customers. And I think the more that you can optimize for organic growth the stronger you'll be in the end. We're investing a lot in PR and content. We're just getting started. We have a small team so we had so much to do just to make our launch day that a lot of things didn't get done.
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Nicole Gibbons: We have a lot in the pipeline content-wise and a lot of stories that'll have some PR legs. And then of course all the other sort of traditional digital marketing channels are part of our mix as well.
Dennis Scully: Do you think that, as a designer and as an entrepreneur, do you think that the design world, the interior design world and specifically I'm thinking of sort of the high end D&D New York Design Center type companies, do you think they can make a model like this work? Where people can go online and get quotes, as we were talking about earlier, or get more information from that company without having to interact with a person, but just be able to get the information that they need and go? Is that really going to be viable for a lot of these companies in the high end design world, do you think?
Nicole Gibbons: I do think that there's a big opportunity for a lot of the companies in the high end design world to change their models to suit the way that a younger generation of designers run their businesses. Because as the old guard starts to retire and whatnot, it's going to be these young designers who grew up in a totally different generation. Then David Easton's of the world and Charlotte Moss's and whatever. And I think all of my peers in the design industry love online self-service. We need to do things quickly. We need to respond to our clients really quickly.
Nicole Gibbons: We were talking about getting quotes. I love when I can just go online and get my own quote in five seconds versus having to email a wrap and wait for a response and slow up my process. So I think just having more self-service is great. I think the big design epicenters like New York City and LA will always need physical showrooms, but I think the more ... I mean, you just do it. It's impressive. You take your clients there. You get inspired there. You need to go and pull samples right away because you don't have two days for UPS or whatever.
Dennis Scully: Absolutely. Sure.
Nicole Gibbons: There's always going to be, I think, in the big, big markets I think it's useful, but I think there's a better opportunity to cater to the way that designers are running their businesses, which are all paperless now. No one wants to have 12 inch thick catalogs because we can see all the stuff on your website. Just making right making all of that much more efficient and it'd be nice if lead times get shorter. If someone could figure that out. I think they could probably win a big chunk of extra business.
Nicole Gibbons: But like paint, I think a lot of the home industry and the furniture business and the textile industry hasn't quite moved as fast as how the consumer landscape has shifted. I think maybe getting some new minds and fresh thinking and new ways of doing things is needed.
Dennis Scully: Yeah. And Clare is a consumer-facing brand. So we're going after the whole world. Right?
Nicole Gibbons: Well not necessarily. We are not just a consumer-facing brand. At the end of the day, our goal is to become a major player. I designed a color palette that I knew designers would love to. I want them using our products also. We are still in our very earliest stages of infancy. We are a newborn startup.
Dennis Scully: Right. Just a couple of weeks old.
Nicole Gibbons: We can't do it all on day one, but literally within hours of our press launch we were getting emails from designers being like, "Do you have a trade program? Do you have a fan deck? How can we specify your products?"
Dennis Scully: Fantastic. Okay.
Nicole Gibbons: We were not fully set up and ready to rock with that just yet, but now that we're seeing the demand, we're working faster to make all of that happen.
Dennis Scully: So that was a nice surprise, that the design communities reached out right away and said, "We love ... "
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. I don't even know if it was a surprise because we expected ... I knew our colors were awesome and beautiful and I knew that design community would appreciate the curation. What I was focused on first was solving the pain points for the customers who have the biggest pain points. Designers know exactly what they need and what they're looking for and what finish they want to specify and how to narrow down the choices. The average homeowner really struggles. It's a hassle. They need the help. They need the guidance.
Nicole Gibbons: So initially we were focusing on that customer first, serving the customer who had the biggest pain points, but it's super important to me that the A&D community supports our business as well and use our products and I think there's always room for new players. I think one of the great things about our paint is that it is premium paint. I design paint that a pro would want to use. I would hear feedback on job sites from contractors when I would ask them to use certain paint brands and they'd be like, "This is really difficult paint to work with." I'd hear the feedback about the products.
Dennis Scully: So they'd tell you which ones were difficult to use.
Nicole Gibbons: Exactly. So I would hear the feedback on which paints were difficult to use and which paints they loved to use. So I knew that like the formulation was really important. Pros work differently than a homeowner who's doing it themselves. They focus on efficiency. They need products that they can apply really fast. They need tools and things that ... They're all about productivity because they need to finish the job faster so they can move on to the next one. So all of that was taken into consideration when building this brand.
Dennis Scully: And did you do a lot of testing with Clare? Were there people in the field who were using it before?
Nicole Gibbons: Absolutely. We got a lot of feedback an immediately people say, "This is really great pain. Really good quality paint." Before they'd use it I was like, "Oh, what's your favorite brand? What brand do you love to work with the most?" And obviously, a lot of contractors and pros, they're bound to whatever the client wants. It's not always their choice of what product they're using. So they've used it all and have opinions about what paint they like and what they don't like. And I would hear folks say that this is better than fill-in-the-blank that I was using before.
Nicole Gibbons: I'm so confident in our products and I know that once we get into the hands of the pros, once designers really start using our product in their projects, I think the color curation is fantastic. We're making it easier for their clients by even just the sampling, offering the peel and stick swatches. When you're working with homeowners, they have a higher consideration than when you're working on a commercial project. Homeowners will sit with swatches for a while before they decide. They take a little bit more time to make a choice even if they have a designer nudging them towards an option. So we just we make sampling simple. We're working on developing tools that make showing colors to their clients easier. So our goal is really to become a major player.
Dennis Scully: What does that mean? How big do you see yourself getting in the future, Nicole? What do you think?
Nicole Gibbons: Like I said, I hope that we're able to really cut through, make a real dent in the market and become a dominant player. It's essentially a duopoly. There are two companies that own every paint brand you've ever heard of or that most consumers have ever heard of. And then when you look at the sub-players underneath those two, they're still $500 billion companies with small slices of the market share. So I think there is a big opportunity for Clare to really cut through and become a major player because I don't believe that the existing brands are serving the needs of today's customer and we are. And that's our opportunity.
Dennis Scully: And you want to stay a standalone company? Do you want to stay independent or if Benjamin Moore or Valspar calls up and says, "Oh my God, this is a good idea. We want to buy you out. What do you say?"
Nicole Gibbons: Well, right now, like I said, we are a newborn company. We launched days ago. So I'm not thinking that far ahead to who might acquire us someday or if that's the road that we even want to go. Obviously, being a venture-backed company, the two logical paths to give your investors the liquidity that they are looking for is either acquisition or IPO. It's not that I haven't thought about it, but right now I'm so focused on building this brand into an adult and not a baby. I've got a lot of nurturing to do.
Dennis Scully: There is a lot of work to do. Was there one thing that you wish you had known what you got started with launching this brand that you sort of have learned along the way and, "Oh God, I wish I knew this in the beginning." Was there one thing that really sort of stands out? You learned so much going through the process.
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. Honestly I don't know if there's anything I would have done differently. There's a lot of little things that maybe I wish I would've known in the beginning, but every part of the journey and getting here was a learning for me. It was like a crash course in business school, a crash course in the VC landscape, a crash course in paint chemistry, a crash ...
Dennis Scully: And you did it all yourself. You didn't have advisors or investment bankers.
Nicole Gibbons: I just learned so much along the way that I don't really have any regrets or wish that I could have done something in a different way. I think everything happened in its sort of divine path and for a purpose and that's why we're here today.
Dennis Scully: So the next big steps for you, as far as really, as you say, growing this infant company and getting it bigger? Is it hiring more staff? What are the next big things you have to work on?
Nicole Gibbons: Yeah. Obviously building a team is important. So we're hiring always and so you can't do more without the human capital and the human resources.
Dennis Scully: What are you hiring for? What do you really need? What are some of the next people that are coming on board?
Nicole Gibbons: Right now hiring for head of customer experience. Feel free to hit me up on LinkedIn of you're a fit.
Dennis Scully: Customer experience. All right.
Nicole Gibbons: We're also hiring for head of business operations. So that's sort of a hybrid role that will wear many hats, from finance to helping with partnerships. Some of the other roles I can't really divulge because they might reveal what some of our future plans are.
Dennis Scully: Got it. Okay. All right.
Nicole Gibbons: But we are a growing team and we want to test new channels, create new partnerships, find new ways to tell people about Clare and share the word. There's a lot of interesting and exciting things in the pipeline that I can't wait to share with everybody soon.
Dennis Scully: That is very exciting, as is this whole process. So huge congratulations to you on the launch of Clare and thrilled to be here in your office here at the Clare HQ. A color wall in the background with all your colors. Did you name all these colors yourself?
Nicole Gibbons: Yes.
Dennis Scully: Yes? Flat Iron a Good Jeans?
Nicole Gibbons: With my team.
Dennis Scully: Summer Friday?
Nicole Gibbons: Naming colors was a team effort and it was such a fun part of the process.
Dennis Scully: I'll bet it was.
Nicole Gibbons: I felt like when you hear paint color names from other brands they kind of sound boring. When you have 3,000 colors it's hard to come up with fresh names. So we wanted to come up with names that you could really connect with and that resonates. So we've got a couple names inspired by Beyonce, like Blue Ivy and Lemonade. I'm from Detroit so I named a color-
Dennis Scully: I was going to say, Motor City.
Nicole Gibbons: ... Motor City, after my beloved hometown.
Dennis Scully: I knew that was it.
Nicole Gibbons: Avocado Toast is our fun green. Rose Season. I think like that just all of those little elements of the brand, from the naming, to the product, to the packaging, we wanted it to feel fresh and feel different and be something that people could connect with. Folks are on Instagram making jokes about drinking rosé with our paint. It's really fun and it makes the shopping experience more fun.
Dennis Scully: Absolutely.
Nicole Gibbons: We had a ball naming colors.
Dennis Scully: I'll bet you did and they're very fun. Seize the Gray. Love it. It's all very, very exciting. Congratulations again.
Dennis Scully: My guest has been Nicole Gibbons, founder and CEO of Clare.
Dennis Scully: Thank you again for joining us. This show is Business of Home and I'm Dennis Scully. If you like what you hear, please feel free to subscribe, tell a friend about the show and most of all, leave us a review on iTunes. Thank you again to our sponsor and our producers. You can find us at BusinessofHome.com or on Facebook or Instagram. We'll see you next week.