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235: A Behind the Scenes Look at Pura Vida’s Multi-Million Dollar Exit

Posted by Austin Brawner on January 21, 2020

 

When someone asks about eCommerce best practices, we always hear, “well, what’s Pura Vida doing?”

Today we’re talking with Pura Vida CEO, Griffin Thall, to get an inside look at their current strategies, how the company’s grown over the last several years, the way his role has evolved, and what it’s actually like to prepare your company for a multi-million dollar sale.

Andrew and I both worked with Pura Vida at the very beginning, and we’re so excited to reconnect and bring this episode to you today.

Enjoy!

Episode Highlights

  • 6:25 What got Griffin and Pura Vida to where they are today.
  • 7:28 How Griffin’s role has changed as the company’s grown.
  • 9:02 Pura Vida’s unique influencer strategy and how it started.
  • 12:45 Relentless innovation and how Pura Vida continues to increase customer lifetime value.
  • 15:18 The moment Griffin realized the brand was going to be a success.
  • 16:30 How Pura Vida’s growth strategy has changed over time.
  • 17:57 The challenges Griffin’s faced over the years as CEO.
  • 20:12 Where Griffin’s seen the most success in hiring.
  • 22:12 How Pura Vida’s ambassador program started, and where it’s at today.
  • 22:21 A day in the life of the Pura Vida CEO, and the value of growing a team.
  • 24:25 Why you’ve got to stop wearing all the hats in your business if you want it to scale up.
  • 28:14 What you should be focusing on as a founder, instead of getting enticed by the newest Shopify app.
  • 29:28 A key approach for brands launching today vs 6 years ago.
  • 31:53 Lessons learned about managing cash while scaling up.
  • 33:47 How Pura Vida ended up making a deal with Vera Bradley, and the process of finding and securing that kind of partnership.
  • 38:07 Griffin’s biggest takeaway from meeting with investors.
  • 39:34 The expansive value Pura Vida’s gained from their partnership with Vera Bradley.
  • 41:33 What Griffin’s excited about right now and some things in store for Pura Vida in 2020.

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Transcript

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Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name's Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. Man, long-time friend and previous client for both of us on the podcast today.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, I'm fired up. This is going to be a really, really good... This is an episode that... honestly, I didn't even realize we hadn't done before. And then, once we talked about it, like this is the ultimate no-brainer of all time, because both you and I have, in the early days, worked with him and his company extensively and are excited to bring the Pura Vida CEO, Griffin Thall on the podcast.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah man, I was looking back actually before today's interview at some old emails from Griffin and from Paul and looking at the ROAS numbers we used to see and just crazy stuff back in the day. The thing that always struck me about both of them was from the outset, they were relentless in their pursuit to be the best at whatever they were doing in eComm.

Austin Brawner: Yes.

Andrew Foxwell: I remember talking with them about Creative early on and they were like, "No, we're going to be the best. We're absolutely going to be the best." Obsessively, Griffin would go out and be taking photos on his iPhone and he would be creating content on the fly and he'd be obsessively doing things with the website and optimizing.

I was just always really impressed by that, and there's a reason he's successful, right. I mean, you can tell because... or that they're both successful. They're just relentless in their approach. It's really cool to see where they are now, partnering with Vera Bradley and post-acquisition.

Austin Brawner: It's crazy too because the last time I saw Griffin before this interview, we had dinner in San Diego with a bunch of brands. I think there was five, five brands. And since that time, four of them have been acquired for double-digit exits. It's crazy when you get an environment like that where everybody's doing it. It becomes... it's like the natural push to make that happen. It's really cool.

The interview today, we go through a lot of how Pura Vida has grown, some of the stuff that he has thought about throughout the whole time of scaling, how his role's evolved, what it's actually like to prepare your company to sell, because it is different than most people expect. You don't just get an offer. It's like a full-on process. He dives deep into that.

So I think you guys are really, really going to enjoy this interview.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I completely agree with you. I think that there's a lot of good tips in here, a lot of gems, so let's go ahead and bring him onto the show.

Griffin Thall: Thank you. I appreciate you guys having me on.

Andrew Foxwell: I guess starting out right away, a lot of people are listening to this episode because of the growth that you guys have had and the way... I don't think I'm overstating it by saying that within the eCommerce world, I get asked, and Austin I'm sure you do too, get asked about, "what is Pura Vida doing" more than anything else?

You're such a name in this industry, in eCommerce. What do you think, at a high level, got you here to where you are today?

Griffin Thall: I think what got us here today is that we've always focused on content and branding over creating a top-line revenue business just to hit numbers and hit goals.

What that means to me is we've always focused on storytelling, on branding, on marketing, on visual elements. If you look at our Instagram, we have 1.9 million followers and we're the most engaged jewelry brand on Instagram that has over 1.5 billion users. I think what that says is we figured out a way to carve a path and make Pura Vida more unique than any other brand through our content strategy.

Austin Brawner: I think something you've been doing for a long time... I remember back five, six years ago, it was the same. I remember you telling me you were still the most engaged jewelry brand five years ago and have kept it up until this point.

As a founder, how has your role evolved in that aspect of guiding the business and guiding the brand from when you guys were still small and had five, six employees, to now?

Griffin Thall: I would say, in the beginning stages, I would be reaching out to every influencer, every content creator, every photographer that I thought fit the Pura Vida brand and the Pura Vida ethos. I would send them a DM from my account or I would send them an email from my business email and say, "Hey, I love your vibe. I think you would really mesh well with Pura Vida. I would love to send you some products."

I still do that occasionally when I find someone on Instagram that I think would be a good fit, but my role has changed now from having a team of four people on our social media team that just focus on outreach, on management with influencers, on coordinating content through our paid and organic teams. And by having such a strong team that understands the brand, we're able to scale our social strategy so much quicker than me just reaching out to every single influencer, getting photos from them and posting them myself.

Andrew Foxwell: So you're actually going and... part of what this team does, you have an internal, four-person team that is doing reaching out, that is trying to come up with partnerships or posting deals with different influencers and different... other brands, I would assume, how does that all work? I mean, how do you... And how are they judged on success? Is it just the continued growth of the brand and keeping things engaged or are there metrics you assign to it, et cetera?

Griffin Thall: So we don't pay any influencers to post about Pura Vida, that's just not our strategy. Our strategy is engaging with influencers and taking them on trips and experiences together to show that they're having a very fun time with our products in different cities or countries around the world.

So most people would think that that strategy is crazy, because it's not a direct response play, but that's our organic play. So when you think about Pura Vida, two sides, there's the paid side, which is direct response. It's products front and center, very crisp imagines, and then the organic side is the storytelling, the influencer marketing and building the vibe. I think for us, we have two different sides that are very strong and they don't really cross over too much, that they're pretty separate strategies.

Austin Brawner: I know this is something that you've developed over time, obviously working with influencers and building up to something like taking people on trips or that sort of thing, when you just kind of got started, I know you mentioned initially you were just kind of reaching out, sending product, when did you guys make a deliberate switch or was there something in your mind when you said, "All right, we need to take this to the next level and we're going to start upping our content game and start taking some of these influencers." How did that actually get started?

Griffin Thall: I would say a couple years into our strategy when we realized that having influencers post about Pura Vida and hitting up maybe 20 or 25 to 50 people per day and sending them that product, it was kind of this turn and burn type of relationship. It wasn't too sustainable because at times, we thought, "Hey, why don't we hire 10 people in house to do influencer outreach and hit up as many people as possible?"

But what we realized was that strategy didn't have anything... didn't have relationship base tied to it, it was kind of just like a more of a transactional relationship. Once we converted it to a more personal relationship where these influencers are almost like our friends and our family and we're just going on trips with them, but then we bring on a photographer and videographer to document them having a good time, it really changed what we felt was a much more effective way to do marketing.

So now, if you look on our Instagram, we're posting about trips. We have the photos resurface on every possible channel, whether it's like a couple posts we put on Instagram, whether it's a couple stories, whether it's a little 15 second clip that we put out, we love surfacing the photos on every channel possible, and that's done through these influencer trips.

Andrew Foxwell: The influencer trips are something that I've noticed, I've seen you guys doing it for a while, and I think it is a unique approach, because it's... Pura Vida as a brand is all about having fun and living life and living Pura Vida, basically. It perfectly represents what you're trying to do.

If you're an influencer and you could look at the cash you're trying to make or you could look at going on a trip, the people that are going to really drive that purchases and conversions for you and elevate the brand are going to be totally motivated by a sweet trip.

I mean, it's almost like you could see an example of Pura Vida, easily you could see you guys owning some sort of travel experience company even. Not saying you're going to do that, but I don't think that's that out of line based on who you are and the types of things that you put out there for those particular audiences.

Griffin Thall: Thank you.

Andrew Foxwell: I think one thing that is really strong that I've always been impressed with from watching you over the years is developing merchandise that you know the customers are looking for. How do you go about relentlessly innovating and researching different things that are on brand or on trend?

Because I think that's a thematic thing from Pura Vida from the beginning is that you guys, when you want to do something, you do it 1000%. You really dive in and understand that. How do you look at this from a merchandising standpoint and say, "How can we continue to up our lifetime value and things like that with our customers?"

Griffin Thall: I would say it's a mix between product fit for the influencers. So for example, we'll make specific bracelet packs in the colors of the influencer's feed, so once they post about it and once we take them on trips and once we do a photoshoot or a campaign around them, the customers or the fans that follow these influencers, they're more likely to buy the pack because it's like a signature product that we made for them, almost like a signature shoe for an athlete.

This has been a very big success for us is having these influencer packs drop every year, so we have about five or six that are going to drop next year in 2020 that we're really excited about. That's one strategy.

Another strategy is Pura Vida has a couple different personas. What I mean by that, we have the surfer girl, we have the adventure girl, we might have the other girl that's going to be a little bit more exotic. Once you take those three types of personas and you just design products that represent those types of people, you'll see a much more personal shopping experience on our website.

So when people go to our website, we're not just catering to the beach girl, we're also catering to the mountain girl or a different type of person as well. When a customer wants to go shop, they could shop products that represent that person's hobbies.

Austin Brawner: It's really interesting how you guys have evolved and that has come over years of defining who your target audience is. I remember sitting back... I remember being in you guys' office, I think it was like five, six years ago, and at the time you had just bought the Coachella billboard, I think for the first time, and I remember everyone was really fired up because it was huge to build and put this billboard there for the first time. Like, "All right, going to be on the way out to Coachella."

When, as you've gone through and looked back since the founding of Pura Vida, when did you guys first realize 100% that you had something that was going to be really successful? And then, from that point, what were some of the stages that you guys had to go through to get to where you're at now?

Griffin Thall: In the beginning, I think we realized that Pura Vida was going to be successful just because we kept outselling the amount of inventory that we had had, so we would buy a bunch of different stock of different bracelets. When those would sell out, we would have to basically say, "This product's sold out, sign up for the back in stock notification." Once 50% of our website was always sold out, we're like, "All right, we got to really invest in deeper inventory."

So then we hired someone to help us out with inventory analysis and a little bit more on the accounting side. That's when we were able buy much deeper on better selling SKUs, as opposed to just buying the same amount of inventory on all the SKUs in our catalog. Once we started to do that and actually budget inventory specifically based on the revenue and the sales per SKU, then it allowed us to have more inventory on the best selling items, which then allowed us to scale.

Andrew Foxwell: How has the growth strategy changed from what it was, even when we first met, to what it is now? On the way to being really a pretty huge company at this point, what are the growth tools that have evolved and changed, and how do you look at it moving forward?

Griffin Thall: I think in terms of the growth, we want to keep doing what we're doing, because it's not like every single year we change up our strategy, we kind of just keep doing what's working really well. For us, it's been the Facebook and Instagram ads, making the videos UGC-focused, doing boomerangs that are very unpolished, working with brand ambassadors that can market our product on their college campuses at scale.

So all these Pura Vida hacks that are kind of part of our DNA and what makes Pura Vida successful is kind of what we're doing every year. So the bigger we get and the more customers we have, the word of mouth keeps going stronger and quicker. I feel like that's what keeps our CPAs so low is that we have so much word of mouth and the experience that customers get when they unbox Pura Vida from ordering online is just better than any other company.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, it's interesting when you think of it in those terms. It's like just doing a lot of what's worked better over the last however many years, just continuing to evolve and iterate and do it better and grow and scale.

What have been some of the challenges that you faced personally as the CEO? And maybe times when you felt like, "Okay, we're hitting a new level and I need to grow or change or move or we need to evolve in some way." Is there anything that you can highlight about times that you felt that way?

Griffin Thall: Yeah, I would say there's been challenges, obviously in our life cycle. After every Black Friday, we're usually hit pretty hard with inventory issues, with products shipping late, with customer service issues, with packages not shipping on time.

So this year, we actually really overcame a big challenge, we started staffing up our customer service about four to five months prior to Black Friday. So after Black Friday hit, we only had 150 tickets in the queue. When last year, we had about 10,000 tickets in the queue, so that was a big win for us.

Also, the inventory, we definitely want to prepare inventory, not just for Black Friday, but for inventory on the month after Black Friday. And what that means is, don't just order products to sell out, but order products to get low and then sell out the month later, just so our sales don't take a big dip when people are still shopping for holiday after the sale is over.

 I would say another challenge that we've kind of overcome is over the years, as we've grown Pura Vida, it's been me and Paul running the show with our entire staff, and I would say over the past couple years, we started to hire really strong middle management at Pura Vida, which has allowed us to have more trust in the managers, in terms of bringing their team forward and motivating them and creating better work environment for everyone. I feel like that's been really successful, because, prior to this, everyone would come to us with questions, which is totally fine, but I feel like when we put the managers in place, it really allowed us to scale and have a much stronger team from the core.

Austin Brawner: How long did it take you guys... when you were diving into that, obviously it's a challenge as a lot of people in this space who are thinking the same thing, they're in that position where you were at, right; you and Paul fielding all the questions, you guys are growing super fast.

How did you go about hiring those people? Did you promote from within? Did you go find people from other companies? Did you guys have any false starts? What did that process look like?

Griffin Thall: Yeah, I mean, pretty much a mix between all those. We reached out to a couple recruiters. We had some people that we hired then they didn't work out. We had people that we hired through friends and they've been home runs. It's kind of just a mix of all of it.

I feel like ironically now, a lot of the staff that we're getting to work at Pura Vida are personal references from people within.  So there's the trust, there is the past work experience and there's so much added to that, which makes them a great hire. So I feel like moving forward, as we continue to scale, whether it's working with the right recruiter or whether it's hiring within or having people that work at Pura Vida who are just crushing it, to having their friends work for the brand too is definitely something that we see moving forward.

Andrew Foxwell: Let me go back to one thing that you talked about earlier, Griffin, of the campus program that you were talking about, campus rep program. Can you talk about the program that you have, the referral program that you have or ambassador program, and how that's set up, and how it's going?

Griffin Thall: Yeah. So the ambassador program is going really well. In the early stages, Paul and I would walk around to all the college campuses passing out bracelets, talking at the sorority meetings and doing whatever we could to get free impressions to these students.

Once we realized that that was successful, we wanted to find a way to replicate our bodies physically on every college campus in the world, so we created the Brand Ambassador Program. It's very easy to sign up on our website. We have over a 100,000 brand ambassadors in this program who have rep codes, who get the marketing material, and who promote Pura Vida on their college campuses and online.

So it really creates this word of mouth, organic strategy that's not just us paying big influencers that have millions of followers to post about Pura Vida, but getting people that have maybe 500 followers or 800 followers to post about Pura Vida and those convert at a much higher level.

Austin Brawner: As the business has evolved and grown, and you look at your role as the CEO, how has your role specifically evolved during that time and what is a average day for you look like now compared to just say, two, three years ago as you guys were obviously still growing, but in a different space?

Griffin Thall: Yeah, I would say probably up until a year or two ago, we didn't have a web developer in house, we didn't have an eComm manager in house, we didn't have a creative director, we didn't have a marketing manager, we didn't have someone to help us with all the social media posts, so I feel like I was doing all that stuff and I was spread very thin.

I was managing every relationship with every agency. I was managing all the apps. I was doing a little bit of dev work. I was helping with the graphic design side. I was helping with the photography side.

So I feel like now that those positions are hired within Pura Vida with true experts, it's allowed me to take a step back and actually understand where we want to take the brand from a bigger picture. So whether it's meeting with our design team on a daily basis, our social team coming up with a strategy for different social channels, what's working on the paid side, what's not and how to relay that information to our internal team and then just kind of overall working with Paul and the other managers at Pura Vida on a daily, monthly basis.

Austin Brawner: Has that been a... how have you mentally gone through that process? Because I work with obviously a lot of different clients who are in a similar space to where you're talking about, right, where they are working with agencies, doing design, just kind of wearing all the hats. How did you work through that and adapt your role to the other side? Was it really focusing on the hiring that allowed you to get there? Was it a mental breakthrough? How do you feel like... what type of tips do you have for people who are in that spot right now and they know they can get to the other side? What have you learned through that process?

Griffin Thall: I think what I learned was that I was maybe wearing the hat of like four or five people and I was doing their job maybe 10%. So as the company was growing, and if you think about it that I was doing eComm, I was doing dev, I was doing photography, social media, and creative direction. And if you think about, if I'm only giving each of those positions 10% of my time or 20% of my time, then we're not really giving Pura Vida the best amount of support to continue the growth.

So when we realized and take a step back and said, "Hey, these are all the hats I'm wearing, let's hire each of them one by one, and now those people are working full time, they're giving a 110% of their effort, the brand can scale so much more effectively."

Andrew Foxwell: It makes a lot of sense in terms of how you've gone about it... I think that that's true, even in the times that we've spoken more recently, I feel like you have transitioned out of that, you were always doing so much. I think the brand is what it is because of your approach to it and the obsessive nature there.

All right, so let's go ahead and just get nerdy for a little bit here. Griffin, I know that you've done a lot with user experience, a lot with Shopify apps, a lot of cart optimizations, some other levers you've pulled. What are some of your favorites that have really helped the bottom line for you guys in the recent months?

Griffin Thall: I would say a pretty big technology that's worked for us is called Attentive. And what Attentive is it's a SMS technology that basically allows customers to sign up for SMS on our websites, they get an abandoned cart via SMS, and then they also get weekly messages about sales, new product launches, and any other promotions that we're running. So SMS has been an important strategy for us in 2019, and in 2020 it's going to be even more prominent.

Austin Brawner: One thing I always kind of recognized is that you were always on new technology. All the new stuff that's coming out, I feel like you were you plugged in figuring out what's working and would bring it to Pura Vida really, really quickly. Where do you look for this information? When you're out there, what are some of the resources that you are looking to, to find out what's working to bring it to Pura Vida?

Griffin Thall: Honestly, we get hit up from vendors all the time, so I think it's just kind of like weeding out the ones that we are interested in and the ones that we do want to talk to, we set up a call and kind of go through a demo. But in the beginning stages of starting Pura Vida, I remember it was like turn and burn on like every Shopify app.

We were basically exploding growth in the beginning, so we were breaking through these apps, because they couldn't handle our scale, and we would find the next bigger one and the next bigger one. And I think once we kind of reached the point where we've grown through a lot of these Shopify apps, we haven't really changed them in a long time; we haven't changed our review app, we haven't changed our referral app, we haven't changed the company we use for email marketing. So I think once you reach a point of scale and you're working with the best vendors and apps, you don't really have a reason to change from them.

Andrew Foxwell: It's interesting to hear you talk about it. It's interesting to hear your take. I think that you're right about once you hit that point, no reason to change. I think that makes a lot of sense.

From a technical standpoint, do you see that a lot of other... because obviously one of the things that you do is you spend a lot of time talking to other eCommerce entrepreneurs, and a lot of them are asking you for advice. Do you see a lot of people getting bogged down in, "This is the perfect app," or, "This is the perfect thing that you've got to do," and kind of getting caught up in the weeds and not necessarily thinking about the bigger picture? Or, do you feel like that's not the case and most of the time people kind of have it right?

Griffin Thall: I mean, I think with the Shopify apps, there isn't a reason to kind of obsess over getting every single one right off the bat. I mean, if it takes time to kind of install the apps, configure them, and add them to your app stack for your eCommerce store, I think that's okay. The focus on the founder should be on content, on brand building, on partnerships, and a successful paid ad strategy. I think the apps, if you install a couple of apps in beginning when you're starting your store, that's good and healthy, but I think the focus from the start to really drive performance is going to be the paid ad strategy.

Austin Brawner: Yeah. It's really interesting right now how the space has changed, obviously, a lot since you guys first started getting involved with social media, right. Facebook and Instagram is changed a lot. I'm still seeing a lot of brands that can turn it on and scale up really, really quickly. I see that happening almost more and more now just because the way that Facebook ads has matured and found that you can distribute really quality offers really quickly and scale really fast.

I feel like you timed it really, really well. Had success in Facebook and Instagram really early on and built up some organic reach and organic audiences early. And they were able to scale it with paid.

If you were to go and start Pura Vida over today, how would you be approaching it given the changing nature of our space and how things have evolved over the last 5, 6 years?

Griffin Thall: Yeah. I mean, I think it's interesting. Me and Paul, my business partner, were talking about that the other day were like what if we started at zero today for Pura Vida? What would we even do? And to be honest, it's very difficult. It's very, very difficult to start a brand right now, especially a price point like ours; we're selling $5 bracelets. I mean, to enter a challenging platform like Facebook with $5 items is almost impossible.

So I think, we started with such an uphill battle; there was no paid... there was no Facebook, there was no Instagram paid, it was just building this organic channel, and we really hammered on how many customers we can get per day and how many of them we can get to re-buy the next month or the next couple of months. So I think, today the only way that someone's going to win over another brand in the same category is through creative content.

It's hiring people that are experts in videography, experts in photography, and finding ways to kind of have that competitive edge on the paid strategy. But trying to build a brand today only in the organic is too tough, because you're going to get basically outbid by these brands that have funding or a budget.

Andrew Foxwell: As you seeing any other channels that you're testing that have been doing decent for you, other than Facebook and Instagram?

Griffin Thall: I mean, we test other channels all the time, but I mean, it's probably less than like 5% of spend. So I think it's just not significant enough to really mention. I mean, we do Snapchat, Pinterest, Google, but, I mean, those are just kind of always testing and always just learning as opposed to just a massive channel for prospecting and repeat purchases.

Austin Brawner: Many of the brands that are being started right now are started by raising some amount of capital that they can then dump into paid spend to be able to grow. What are some of the things that you've learned along the way? Because you guys started bootstrapped, and bootstrap to build a company of your size, you go through different phases where with inventory, cash could become an issue. What are some of the things you've learned about managing cash? I know Paul is really good at this, and said that he's been doing for many years. What are some things that you guys learned about managing cash and growth as you scaled up without taking a bunch of outside capital?

Griffin Thall: Yeah. I mean, we started with $100 each, we never raised funding, never took on any business partners, and we never engaged in any type of marketing whether it was events or whether it's online if it wasn't profitable.

And for us, in the beginning stages, when there was much less competition, we wanted to make at least a $1 or $2 for every dollar we put in. and obviously that slimmed down a little bit over the years, but it was really important for us to make sure that if we were going to go to a street fair and the cost is $500, we better walk away with a $1000 or $1500. If we were going to do this campaign with a blogger or someone online and we're going to pay them $5000 to write about us on their blog, before Facebook and Instagram, then we want to make sure we got $10,000 of sales from that blog.

So we never were too risky, we weren't big gamblers, we were very selective on what we wanted to do. And once we were so disciplined with the strategy and built up a couple 100,000 organic likes on Facebook before the paid came into play. We had so much ammo to go for when we were starting to buy ads, because we already had the audience, we already had the high converting website, we already were so, like I said, disciplined on building this bulletproof website that once we were able to run ads on Facebook and Instagram, they just converted so well, and customers were just flying in at low CPAs.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, back in the good old days, man. I remember those days with you guys.

So let's transition and talk a little bit about the deal and talking about the partnership that you guys now have with Vera Bradley. For you, did you always know that you wanted to sell? Or, was it that eventually you and Paul were like, "You know, we need another partner to help take us to the next level here?" What was that decision process like for you?

Griffin Thall: Yeah. I mean, I think, Paul and I started Pura Vida because we had a passion for creating a brand, we weren't just like, "Hey, let's raise a bunch of money, let's dump it in this, let's create this math model and exit in 2 years." That was never our thought process or even near it.

So I think Pura Vida was built out of passion, it was built out of creativity, and it was built as our first job out of college, so we really wanted to just drive it home as big as possible. And once we reached a point where the business is growing so quickly and that the marketing became slightly easier for us to do and the logistics became more of a challenge for us to do, we realized that we were not experts in logistics, we're not experts in the back office functions of a company our size.

So what we wanted to do was create an office environment where the majority of people in our office are doing sales and marketing and branding, and find a partner that can take off this back-office accounting, legal, HR, accounts receivable, accounts payable, all the stuff that we felt we would rather hire outside of our office than inside. And I think that that's what's been a big attraction of Vera Bradley, is that when we met with them and we figured out how our two companies could combine, it was basically working with Vera Bradley so Pura Vida can remain a separate entity in San Diego, in La Jolla, and continue to scale our creative side of the business.

Austin Brawner: How long from the beginning of the process does it actually take to get a deal like that done? When did you guys initially connect? And what does that deal look like for somebody else who might be interested in something like that? How long does it take and how does that work?

Griffin Thall: Yeah. I mean, finding a good partner is definitely a process, you have to find a good investment banking firm to work with that you trust, then you have to go through a diligence phase and kind of getting all your information for your business and the accounting, the legal, all the trademarks, and basically all the stuff that's probably scattered if you don't focus on this, but then once you go through the process it's organized, it's buttoned up, and you have everything just ready to rock.

So once you do that, then you have to work with a designer to help build a book, which is basically a pitch deck which includes your financials, visuals, the storytelling, your growth plan, opportunities. And once you have kind of this ammo, then you go to market with your investment bankers and you basically... they get you set up with different meetings and you shop around.

So whether it's private equity companies, whether it's strategic partners, which are like brands, bigger companies around the world. And we met with about 24, 25 different buyers. We met with people in Australia, we met with people in New York, we met with people in Las Vegas.

I mean, we were on this roadshow that was probably one of the best experiences Paul and I have ever had, because it was so draining, but so rewarding. And we got to meet people that are billionaires, we got to meet people that are just starting private equity companies, and everything in between. So the learning experience that we got from that and the take away was just irreplaceable.

So once you go through that process, then you start meeting with the buyers and you see who is interested, and then from there you basically negotiate a price for the shares that you're looking to sell, just as if you were looking to sell shares on the public stock market.

And then yeah, I mean, Vera Bradley came in and had a very competitive offer among about seven other offers that we got for Pura Vida. And we felt that the legal terms and the way that it was set up, it just really aligned with Pura Vida knowing that a private equity company would have a slightly different vision for the partnership, and Vera Bradley was a more sustainable legacy brand. It's been around for over 30 years, and I don't see them going anywhere, so we just felt that it was a much more sustainable option.

Austin Brawner: You mentioned that it is a super valuable learning experience going through and meeting with all these investors and private equity people. What were some of the things you took away from your meetings and dealings with these people that are there thinking in different ways potentially than you guys are?

Griffin Thall: Yeah. I mean, I think a big take away that we learned is profit and EBITDA over top-line any day of the week. So if you're going through this process and you're meeting with these people, and you say, "Hey, you know, my company's doing $100 million, and they say, 'How much are you profiting?' Oh well, we actually need to raise more money to profit." Well, then you're just in caution tape all around.

And I would say that's something we've never even touched, we've never even wanted to tell someone that our revenue is this, but we're not profitable. It just didn't sit right with Paul and I. So we've always focused on being profitable from day one until the day that we struck a deal Vera Bradley.

And I think that that's what super important is, for anyone who's going down this process, make sure you're confident with any question that comes your way and know that when you do respond to one of these buyers about your finances that you know you're a profitable company, because it's super important, especially with all the news that's been coming out about these bigger brands that are not profitable yet.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, it's been a lot of fun actually to see post your partnership with them to the kind of things that you guys have been doing, like pop-ups in New York and things like... that's kind of neat. Going and talking to different investment bankers even, I think, was some of that.

What are the other things that they've helped you optimize? I mean, obvious you talk about logistics, you talk about operations, is exposure a big part of it, too? And I suppose brainpower part of it, in terms of the people you have access to? What else have they really helped you with?

Griffin Thall: I mean, it's kind of like a mix between all those. It's definitely not the marketing stuff that we're needing help with, it's the backend operations. So they helped us hire a director of finance, in our office at Pura Vida in La Jolla, who came from Tiffany's.

I mean, this guy is an expert in working at a publicly-traded jewelry brand that's worth billions to now working at Pura Vida, so we moved him from New York over to San Diego now. He's just so stoked on this opportunity, and he's been a great asset to us. So that's one big thing that they've done.

Also they've helped to optimize from our insurance plan, to the benefits of our staff, to any other perks that we have with just like working at Pura Vida in general. Also they've been helping us out with analyzing if it's a good move to bring fulfillment from our current set up over to their set up, if it makes sense financially, so they're helping us out with that.

Also they've really connected us with a bunch of big retailers. On the wholesale side, they've connected us with Barnes & Noble bookstores, they've connected us with Princess Cruise ships. So there's a lot of stuff that is in the works in the backend that is really helping optimize our brand. And for them it's just tossing an email, but for us it could be a massive jump forward.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, it's really interesting to think about because when you... When I'm working with a lot of founders who are just trying to grow, grow, grow, and they're building a brand, all those things are kind of secondary, right. Those aren't the top of mind things when you're just trying to figure out how to take one step forward and grow year over year. It's interesting when you've got a larger brand like that to be able to come in and kind of take some of the heat off of the founder.

What are you thinking about now? What are you excited about now, Griff? Would you look at our space and some of the opportunities for, I mean, Pura Vida or other companies? What are the things that you have identified and that get you excited?

Griffin Thall: I mean, I think there's a lot, it's a... I love our marketing, to be honest, I think it's just so cool to watch it evolve from where I was taking pictures on my iPhone and posting them to now having these influencer trips all around the world.

So I think just watching that kind of grow and mature and have such a more cohesive strategy, how these influencer trips pair with a product launch, which pair with merchandising, which pair with how the seasons change. So it's just a much more strategic way to build a brand that I was not experienced when me and Paul started, so I think that's pretty cool to see from afar.

Also we're working on a Pura Vida retail store, which is opening up pretty soon. So that's going to be a really big opportunity for us. So the Vera Bradley team has been helping out with the lease agreements, the location, how the store's going to look and feel; obviously, with our touch to it. But that's something that me and Paul are really stoked on for 2020.

And I think, just overall, just focusing on team culture, we just got a brand new office La Jolla, we got to design it from the ground up. Everyone comes into work, we have catered lunches, we have cold brew on tap, we have people dropping off food all the time. I mean, it's the dream office that I would want to work for if I was an employee. And I think that we have been able to be fortunate enough to build it and let our staff work here, and just kind of feel like a big family.

Andrew Foxwell: I mean, I think that's huge. I mean, I think you have created an incredible brand. You have created an experience for the employees that they're clearly thrilled with what they're doing, and you're kind of, over time, you have allowed the company to continue growing by pulling back and letting more people do the parts of the things that you were doing, and but understanding still the core DNA of the company. So it's pretty cool to watch.

Griffin Thall: Awesome. Thanks, man.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, it's been really great to talk to you. It's been incredible to chat. And I think a lot of people will find this episode incredibly valuable. If people are... have questions and want to follow up with you about something, what's the best way to get a hold of you?

Griffin Thall: Yeah. I mean, either hitting me up on LinkedIn, or Instagram, or just shooting me an email; just griffin@puravidabracelets.com. I'm always open to chatting with founders and helping people through any pain points or scaling. It's what I'm passionate about. So if anyone has any questions, just feel free to hit me up.

Austin Brawner: Awesome, man. Hey, great to catch up. And excited about the future and congrats on the success so far, man. So thanks a lot for joining us.

Griffin Thall: Of course. Thanks so much, guys. I appreciate it a lot.

Austin Brawner: Hey guys, it's Austin. And if you've been loving the podcast, you got to go check out brandgrowthexperts.com. That's where I work one-on-one with my clients to help them build faster-growing, more profitable, online stores.

I've got coaching programs and workshops that we host all over the world. Would love to have you come check it out. If you're a fast-growing eCommerce business or you want to be a fast-growing eCommerce business, you got to check it out. That's the spot for you.

We go more in-depth than we do in the podcast, with comprehensive trainings and coaching to help you scale up. Check it out: brandgrowthexperts.com. See you there.

Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name's Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. Man, long-time friend and previous client for both of us on the podcast today.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, I'm fired up....

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