Nicole Staple — Founder and CEO of Brideside on Investor Bias, Cancer Battles, and Rap Lyrics

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By RockWater Industries and Chris Erwin. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Nicole Staple is the co-founder and CEO of Brideside. Nicole and her team reinvented the bridal shopping experience, and have raised more venture capital than any other female-led business out of Chicago. We discuss investor bias towards women, managing through rapid growth during her husband's cancer battle, and what rap lyrics have to do with ending meetings. Full episode transcript is below.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Erwin:

Hi. I'm Chris Erwin. Welcome to The Come Up, a podcast that interviews entrepreneurs and leaders.

Nicole Staple:

I don't think they knew Sonali was pregnant and we never mention it. She was eight months pregnant. She was big. He came, he left and they told us they were passing because we were located in Chicago. You have to ask yourself is that really why they passed on the deal?

Chris Erwin:

This week's episode features my dear friend, Nicole Staple, the co-founder and CEO of Brideside. Brideside reinvented the bridal shopping experience, creating what they describe as an all-channel concierge service. And they've raised more venture capital than any other female-led business out of Chicago. That's super impressive. Yet Nicole, who I've known for nearly a decade, remains humble and is still very cautiously optimistic about her business. And just like when I knew her in business school, Nicole continues to work tirelessly to build Brideside.

Chris Erwin:

In our interview, you'll hear how Nicole always finds a way to overcome pretty big challenges like how she had to deal with investor bias towards women when first raising funding or leading Brideside through rapid growth during her husband's cancer battle. Despite all this, Nicole also knows how to add some fun into the mix like how her and her co-founder end meetings with rap lyrics. So I'm thrilled to bring you Nicole's story. It's such a good one. You'll hear wild stories and all along the way Nichole just exhibits such incredible courage and resolve. I have learned so much from her and she's a major inspiration for me. So this interview was an absolute delight. All right let's get into it.

Chris Erwin:

Quick heads up that my interview with Nicole was recorded back in February and prior to COVID. Yet her points about direct-to-consumer in 2020 are quite prescient, and Nicole's come-up story definitely stands the test of time.

So Nicole, why don't we start out where'd you grow up, by the way. Remind me.

Nicole Staple:

That's a good question.

Chris Erwin:

I know you've told me, but I forget.

Nicole Staple:

A lot of different places. I was born in London. So my dad is British. My mom had moved to London and my dad followed her to get her PhD in economics from the London School of Economics. I was born there and my parents were also married there. Then my family moved to North Carolina to a small farm town outside of Durham and I lived there for the first 12 years of my life and then we moved to Princeton, New Jersey, which you know-

Chris Erwin:

Garden State.

Nicole Staple:

... because you're also from New Jersey.

Chris Erwin:

Much pride.

Nicole Staple:

And I went to middle school and high school in New Jersey and then my parents moved back to North Carolina. So now I'm sort of from nowhere. No one really lives in North Carolina anymore. My parents split. My family lives sort of all over. So I call Jackson Hole home now where my parents have a ski house and a place that I love.

Chris Erwin:

You have a pretty awesome geographical footprint in my opinion between Jackson Hole and Victor, Idaho and then Palm Springs where we went hiking a couple months ago. And then you also have an HQ in Chicago, and now you're based in New York City. You're all over and then I think you also-

Nicole Staple:

I'm a nomad.

Chris Erwin:

... spend time in North Carolina as well. So that's awesome.

Nicole Staple:

It's always feels a little freeing to be from nowhere, but it also can feel a little detached. I seriously don't know really where I would even call home now. So it's always been interesting to me.

Chris Erwin:

So I'm curious. Right now you are the co-founder and CEO of Brideside and we're going to help tell your story of how you got to where you are today. I'm curious, growing up, being born in London and then growing up in jersey and then you went to Lawrenceville and then to Wellesley College. What was your focus when you were at Wellesley. Why did you choose that school and what you focused on there?

Nicole Staple:

Wellesley was not a popular choice. It's an all-women's college outside of Boston. And no one in my class wanted to go there because it was all women. However, I had a lot of friends and school whose mothers had gone to Wellesley because it was maybe a bit more popular for that generation and I was particularly inspired by that actually and my mom and my grandmother are like amazing women and I really looked up to them and I thought like this was an opportunity to actually do something a little bit different. I actually think wanting to be different is something that's been a theme for me.

Chris Erwin:

Wanting to be different?

Nicole Staple:

Yes.

Chris Erwin:

Okay.

Nicole Staple:

I have this like fear of just living an ordinary life and blending in with everyone else and so I felt that it would be a unique experience, but I wasn't so sure I wanted to do it. Then I played lacrosse in college and so I was looking at schools where I could play sports and I knew I wanted to play division three. I got into some better lacrosse schools and then my dad told me he wouldn't pay for anywhere else that had a lower caliber of academics in Wellesley, and so the decision was sort of made.

Chris Erwin:

You said you have a fear of living an ordinary life. Where does that come from?

Nicole Staple:

So I think it's part of my DNA. I think it's like wanting things to feel exciting is very much a part of I think things I can't control and that's something I've learned over the years. But I grew up and my mom worked in public health internationally a lot and I had the great privilege of traveling with her to a lot of really interesting places. And my dad is a total adventure junkie and took us very rugged sort of backpacking and ski experiences growing up and I just think that really stuck with me. I actually believe it builds a lot of confidence to do that sort of stuff when you're younger and I think I've always sort of wanted to hold on to that because I think it was part of what like gave me confidence that I could do some of those things that other kids my age hadn't done or couldn't do.

Chris Erwin:

It's definitely a unique upbringing that you had between the adventures with your father and your mother in public health. So as you probably compared and contrasted your stories relative to peers of school, by just feeling of like, "Oh, mine's a bit different. Let's go with this. We got some momentum, and this feels right." Okay. So then you go to Wellesley where I think as you describe there's a lot of powerful women who had entrepreneurial ambitions or creating unique careers for themselves that, that really excited you and felt like that was part of this path and this vision that you had for your life. So while you're there, were there any entrepreneurial itches that you were scratching or was it, "Hey, I'm focused on a life on Wall Street," which we'll get into a little bit. What were you thinking there?

Nicole Staple:

No. I didn't really know. I was an economics major. I think part of that was again like what my parents did, but I think part of it was that, that made the world make sense to me I felt like when I was in my Econ 101 class, there was like an aha moment like, "Oh, okay. Got it. This is how the world worked and that just became my orientation." But certainly, there were things that were entrepreneurial in ways, but mostly like social justice oriented.

Nicole Staple:

Even when I was younger, I was really focused on the environment and conservation. So I would start little stupid organizations like sell baked goods at the farmers market to raise money for some conservation organization. Just little things.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. Do what you can. Start local.

Nicole Staple:

Right, exactly. I was involved in some global health stuff in college in the same vein and worked with women in developing countries who were trying to get out of poverty. So that was sort of like where I was mostly focused and then investment banking became my path because that seemed to be what most econ majors did and it felt like a way to get training out of school and to make money, stand on my own two feet which both of those things, as you know, because you had a similar path, you can do when you do investment banking. But there was a very pivotal moment for me during my investment banking interviews where I met a very prolific entrepreneur and that very much changed my perspective of what I might want to do in the future.

Chris Erwin:

Oh, wow. Who was this prolific entrepreneur that you met?

Nicole Staple:

His name is Jeff Pulver he was the founder of Vonage. So he was the original inventor of voice over IP who ultimately became Skype.

Chris Erwin:

It's a pretty big industry.

Nicole Staple:

And as you know much more than that. So my girlfriend, actually a girl I didn't even know, but ultimately became a girlfriend at Wellesley and I were sitting next to each other on the Delta shuttle flight from Boston to New York for our investment banking interviews, and this guy sat next to us and asked us literally, "If you could do anything with your life, what would you do?" And we thought he was a little bit creepy. But we decided to entertain it.

Chris Erwin:

A little bit creepy.

Nicole Staple:

Then we ended up chatting with him and it was Jeff Pulver. As a result, both me and the woman sitting next to me actually talked about wanting to start companies one day and didn't really want to do investment banking, but we felt like we had to. We had a long conversation with him on the flight and ultimately we befriended each other and he ended up being in our lives actually for a good amount of time. Her and I ended up becoming pretty good friends and started working on some ideas at Wellesley together and that seed was sort of planted and ultimately led to me exploring that path later on.

Chris Erwin:

That is very interesting. I did not know that story at all. What did Jeff say on the plane that was like a catalyst or got you excited about entrepreneurship? And then my second question is clearly there was something inside you already and he was this spark that seemed to make it come to life. But what did he share that kind of got you thinking differently?

Nicole Staple:

I think it was more the questions he asked because when you're that age... And I don't know. I think it's different now. Starting companies is more of a thing. This was 2004, 2005. So it felt like something that was very isolated to Silicon Valley and I didn't even really know what Silicon Valley was. My dad was an entrepreneur and had started a few companies, but on the East Coast and it was a very different sort of situation.

Chris Erwin:

Not like today where there's HBO shows like literally called Silicon Valley.

Nicole Staple:

Exactly.

Chris Erwin:

And it's part of the media zeitgeist of everything.

Nicole Staple:

Yeah, I was totally clueless. So I think it was more really asking young people. Most young people I don't necessarily think get asked like what would you want to do if money were of no consequence, right?

Chris Erwin:

Yeah.

Nicole Staple:

You're really just thinking about how you get on your feet when you're that age. And so it was actually interesting to explore that. H was just very encouraging. He was very encouraging and positive about anything and ultimately this became like a longer-term relationship, but things that we would tell him he was just very enthusiastic about. I think when you are trying to put yourself out there just someone being encouraging of you can go a long way.

Chris Erwin:

I mean, this is me asserting some ideas, but maybe in your youth, when you're 2003, 2004 haven't even graduated college yet and someone is asking you questions and essentially they're thinking big. It seems like that was the impression that you got that Jeff was asking you some big questions, which is the assumption you're capable of a lot of things. And hearing that as a youth and then also as a woman probably at that time was maybe surprising. You weren't used to being thought of like that, particularly around your biggest ideas that maybe stray off the path.

Nicole Staple:

I mean, absolutely. And coming from Wellesley, our motto around campus is women who will. There were literally flags all across campus with the phrase women who will, women who will achieve, women who will change the world, women who will give back all over. We were very focused there on finding a path for ourselves and I think a lot of that looked like Hillary Clinton at the time, which was wearing a power suit and being in politics or finance.

Chris Erwin:

That was like kind of like the one image or female power definition that you had.

Nicole Staple:

Yes.

Chris Erwin:

Now, that's clearly changing a lot of ways and I think that you are helping to define what new vision is going forward.

Nicole Staple:

Yes. I've told myself if I am wearing a power suit in the future as I'm sitting here in like knee-high socks and a dress that I have done something wrong. So I think it looks different now.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, I agree. Okay. So you're inspired from this conversation with Jeff. You want to understand how the world works, so that's why you like economics. Economically to investment banking and you commit to that path. So I think you did an internship at Goldman Sachs over summer and then afterwards you went to UBS. Was UBS the experience that you had hoped for. Was it what you expected?

Nicole Staple:

It was nothing like I expected. It was a wild ride. I ended up moving from equity research at Goldman to wanting to do investment banking and healthcare. UBS was a hot healthcare group at the time run by this sort of notorious banker who led a very interesting and intense culture.

Chris Erwin:

A lot is caught up in that definition. Interesting.

Nicole Staple:

Would not have flown in the era of MeToo. But at the end of the day when you have a coach that is incredibly difficult and works you into the ground, you tend to bond with the players around you and I think my experience in banking was like that. I think I learned a lot of really important skills that have helped me start a company. I made more money those two years than I have any years since. So it's only been downhill from there on the financial front.

Chris Erwin:

You're building lots of equity value right now, right?

Nicole Staple:

And I made really, really good friends. It turns out when you're trying to balance a balance sheet at four in the morning, you and your other like 22-year-old friends have a lot to talk about.

Chris Erwin:

Through trauma there is incredible camaraderie and companionship. It is true on the battlefield. I know that through my twin brother in the military.

Nicole Staple:

And I would never compare investment banking and financial modeling, just to be clear, to a battlefield.

Chris Erwin:

I hear you. I mean I was a banker when my brother was in combat abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq. Surprisingly there are some very interesting studies that were done that the highest stress level that a human can have is when you feel that you don't have control over your schedule and that there's incredible uncertainty. And in banking, there's incredible uncertainty because it's 9:00 pm. You think you're done for the night and then a managing director drops like a whole pitch you have to prepare by the next day on your desk. And that that level of stress... This is crazy. It's just what the article says is that that can be higher than those that are in combat and conflict.

Chris Erwin:

Okay. So you're at UBS. You meet this incredible group of people, this incredible network, which you've actually brought up with me in the past. You do that for I think a year or two and then you transition to SVB. What was SVB?

Nicole Staple:

So I did that for two years and then I became really interested actually through working healthcare, in earlier stage healthcare technologies and biotech, and I was deciding between going to work for a biotech company or going to Palo Alto to actually think about learning more about venture capital and made a last-minute decision to do that with Silicon Valley Bank that is deeply ingrained in the startup ecosystem as many of your listeners might know. So I went to work for SVB Capital which is the direct investment fund, essentially the venture capital fund of SVB, small team and that was my first introduction to startups.

Chris Erwin:

So your first introduction to startups, learning about startups and working with early stage founders, what was your initial reaction to that?

Nicole Staple:

My first reaction was there's a lot of people asking for money. I should have known better, but a lot of companies, a lot of ideas, a lot of brilliant people, things I could not understand, I could not for the life of me figure out what the cloud meant.

Chris Erwin:

So there's lots of "cloud conversations".

Nicole Staple:

And this was again, I'm dating myself, new terminology in that day. But I mean really, really inspiring and what I think was interesting is that you were taken seriously whether you were 22 or 52. I think it was really interesting for me, and this is a little bit nuanced but to learn about the life cycle of a company and how things can rise and how things can fall. By doing a lot of cap table analysis, I could actually start to understand like what it meant to own a company, who owned that company, how it all worked and how that evolved as the company grew.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, that's actually really interesting because probably growing up watching the news media then going to Wellesley and then at UBS, you saw, "Hey, a lot of the founders of companies are our banking clients. They're older, right? They've gone through their careers. Now, they're more established. All of a sudden, you're at SVB. You have people that are maybe right out of college or haven't even gone to college pitching with these really big ideas. And then being empowered to do so, sometimes the bank would write checks.

Chris Erwin:

That's got to feel really exciting to you where, one, you're probably rooting for some of these people that are pitching, have these ideas but also thinking about, "Well, if they can do it, then I could also do that, right?"

Nicole Staple:

Yeah, a little bit. I mean, I felt that for sure. Everyone was smarter than I was, so maybe a little bit more inferiority complex than anything but I think that's something we all battle. That's actually been like I think you hear this a lot, but that's certainly been a big theme as well throughout all of this. I think being in awe of the just raw brain power out in the valley was it was pretty amazing and I could also start to explore like if this world is interesting to me and I do think I want to make an impact somewhere, what's something that I might orient myself towards that I could feel passionate about and understand and be good at.

Chris Erwin:

Interesting. So you do SVB for a couple years and then after that, you have a transition to business school, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern and Chicago. I think you did a couple pre-MBA internships in Chicago, but what sparked that transition? What caused you to leave SVB?

Nicole Staple:

I was really interested in potentially starting my own company. And again, much more socially oriented actually, I was really intrigued by social entrepreneurship again. I've had a sort of a theme around being interested in how women move up in sort of society economically. I was interested in that and I was thinking of doing a few different internships prior to business school but ultimately chose year up, which is an amazing national nonprofit that prepares really talented youth for college or really fortune 500 companies through this amazing training program. I thought that I would go to business school to start a social enterprise.

Chris Erwin:

So you thought you would go to business school to start a social enterprise. You'd do this pre-MBA internship at Europe and that further validated your interest in the space like yes, this is definitely what I want to do?

Nicole Staple:

Yes. Although, the one thing I noticed in the nonprofit world because this was a non-profit, but they have an interesting business model where Fortune 500 companies actually essentially fund the model they're not constantly fundraising for grants. But I think most non-profits, you're still particularly as the executive director or the CEO, a lot of your job is asking for money. So there was something that I was noticing there around personal wealth as well, and that was also starting to form in my mind what is the optionality I can build into myself if I think about something that could have financial upside in the near term whether it's starting my own thing or going to a startup or going to another type of job where I could continue to build maybe my own financial footholds, could that lead to more flexibility later on for the type of like social justice work I might want to do?

Chris Erwin:

Interesting. So it's hey, there's a chance you're looking at these early stage companies, founders with these big ideas, raise capital, work really hard, potentially have a liquidity event and exit. And then they are freed up both in time and money to give back and pursue altruistic initiatives. So that seemed like an interesting path for you to take.

Nicole Staple:

You're saying it probably much more eloquently than I would have thought at the time, but I think that's probably along the lines of where my head was at the time.

Chris Erwin:

Okay, interesting. Again, there's clearly a few different ways to do that. It's like you could go into investment banking or consulting, grind that out for 10, 20 years, and also give back. But you were leaning towards the entrepreneurial side. So you go to Kellogg. So that is your focus while you're at school? Are you on that path?

Nicole Staple:

Yeah. I was. I did a lot of work in social investing, social enterprise work and it was a tough industry at the time. It was hard to understand how to build either a fund or companies that were sustainable, double bottom line, sort of initiative. It was complicated. It was more complicated than I thought.

Chris Erwin:

I've never heard of double bottom line actually.

Nicole Staple:

Social return and economic and financial return.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, I like that.

Nicole Staple:

So how do you balance the two and make them optimized for both. It can be challenging. It was around that time that I met my co-founder. She was doing something completely different, but I was ultimately intrigued by what she was working on as well.

Chris Erwin:

Tell us about that moment. So it seems like that you are working on a few different things at school, double bottom line companies and ideas, but as we know now, Brideside is what took off, but what were the origin days? This was not the first idea that you were working on.

Nicole Staple:

No. Well, this company wasn't the first idea. Well, it wasn't my idea, to put that out there. I was just along for the ride, but it was not the first. My brother and I actually pitched some ideas at Kellogg. We won a little pitch competition around our media idea, around bringing local music into... It was sort of like a pitchfork but more location based where you would merge like content and shows that were happening and content that musicians were putting out by major cities. We had some different ideas there. I had-

Chris Erwin:

So this is your brother, Justin. You're pitching ideas at Kellogg. How much younger is your brother? He wasn't in school with us?

Nicole Staple:

He was in college.

Chris Erwin:

He was in college.

Nicole Staple:

He was at University of Chicago, so just down the south side.

Chris Erwin:

Oh, he was nearby.

Nicole Staple:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Erwin:

I did not realize that.

Nicole Staple:

Yep. So you were pitching ideas together and thinking that maybe that could be the thing doubling down on family.

Chris Erwin:

I just try to find people who are smarter than I am and attach myself to them and then pitch their ideas. It was a very smart strategy. It's worked very well for many people. Okay. So you were doing that with your brother and then was any of those ideas seemed like they were going to have legs?

Nicole Staple:

Yeah. I mean, he ended up being very successful in his own right, but Sonali, my co-founder and I were in the same business school section. So we met really day one of school and were friends first. She had been planning her wedding while applying to business school and had thought that the wedding industry was really, to not sound overly trite, ripe for disruption. I knew that she was working on this, but I didn't know much about it. We were in a class together and she said, "Do you want to join my business plan writing team?" I had a few friends on the team, so I thought, "Cool, this looks fun."

Chris Erwin:

Little did you know in that moment when she asked that question that it would literally transform the next nine years of your life.

Nicole Staple:

My entire life.

Chris Erwin:

And potentially many more.

Nicole Staple:

I think there's definitely a power in saying yes to a lot of things and just trying them out. I think I was unsure about whether the wedding industry was interesting to me at all, but I think I was open-minded enough to try to understand the opportunity in a really like detached sort of more like academic way. I immediately thought that it was an awesome opportunity and I could very quickly see where the growth scenario was. And I saw this really like terrible customer experience for women, shopping for bridesmaid dresses and bridal gowns.

Nicole Staple:

I was like, "Oh, yeah. David's Bridal seems like super outdated. Good point." And how these large groups of women were shopping and planning together. It was a huge social thing. I hadn't really been through it much myself, but ultimately would have become a bridesmaid like several times after starting to work on this idea, and I could just see like this is something that feels given where consumer tech is going, given how we're using the internet, how we're looking for inspiration, this just feels like an industry that has not caught up yet. So as we started working on the idea together, I became more and more excited about it.

Chris Erwin:

Wow. Did you feel that you and Sonali really clicked from the beginning? Was there like a special vibe between you?

Nicole Staple:

I did and I never would have started the company if it weren't for that. While we were both MBAs and I think that can sometimes be looked down upon. I felt that we were very different in so many ways, which was a good thing. She was incredibly creative and smart. She had a really interesting orientation towards systems and science. Again, finding people smarter than you are. I was sort of like more of a strategic thinker. I liked big ideas. I could put stories together. I understood again the life cycle of a startup.

Nicole Staple:

I felt that I could really add some direction and structure to some of the ideas that she was talking about with our original co-founder, Emily who's no longer with the company. So I felt we worked really well together. She also was like a self-proclaimed fashion junkie, I was not. I liked more the business side of things and she had a great passion for how to build relationships with designers. She had a great eye for the product. So I just felt that we really vibed.

Chris Erwin:

This might have been a bit premature, but did that complementary relationship also gets you excited where it's like, "Hey, this is a really good idea. And if this were to go somewhere, just sort of become a thing, this could be someone that I could actually work with. Not only just like I like her, but no, we actually work well together. We enhance one another." Was that flashing through your mind?

Nicole Staple:

For sure. And those early days, it's like dating for the first time, meeting someone you really like when you're in those like early days.

Chris Erwin:

Nicole just did a little like shoulder shimming that was part of that. I wish you guys could see it.

Nicole Staple:

Yeah. It's like all romantic and fun like pillow talk until three in the morning. You just you know the ideas are flowing. You're starting to realize, "Oh my god, there is definitely some chemistry here. Some founder chemistry." And those days are really exciting because the whole world is literally at your fingertips when you feel that way.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. It's a really, really exciting moment. I mean, this is like ridiculous about MBAs, when you start talking through a new idea with someone, you're like, "Could this be the rest of my life? Is this my billion dollar exit?" We probably ask ourselves that question too often while in school. But it is a really exciting moment. That's the fun of it.

Nicole Staple:

Yeah. Our spring break, second year, we hiked Patagonia with some friends and we spent hours on the trail like beautiful landscape. So special to be able to do that and do that together and just talked about what the rest of our lives would sort of look like. Could we do this? Could we take the leap? I often think business-minded people and ambitious people over index for risk. I think a lot of MBAs do that. They think things are more risky than they actually are and that can create a lot of fear or inhibit you from exploring new opportunities like this.

Nicole Staple:

I was like really glad that she had decided to do this sort of irregardless of whether I was on board or not and I think that provided a lot of inspiration for me and comfort knowing that she was in, and we could be buddies in that and I could just take the leap. At the end of the day, we'd be in it together. If it failed, I'm sure we were employable. It was not going to be that big a risk.

Chris Erwin:

All right. So let's fast forward a little bit. So you guys commit. You want to do Brideside. This is what you're going to do after you graduate from Kellogg. Okay. So school is over. What does the team look like and what are you working on? Do you have financing?

Nicole Staple:

The team was our friend, Emily, Sonali and myself. We quickly got sort of a technology UX/UI co-founder. That summer after we graduated, we started the Monday after graduation working full-time at 1871, which now is a massive incubator and co-working space in Chicago. We are one of their first tenants and we just used the Kellogg room and started working on...

Chris Erwin:

There's a designated Kellogg room.

Nicole Staple:

There is a Kellogg room and there were only like us... Basically, it was just us using it at the time. This is again, startups weren't as sexy as they are now and we did a photo shoot. We were designing a homepage. I remember that we were coming up with the name. All really important things and we were applying to incubators. That's my memory. I was sleeping on Sonali's couch, me, her husband, all in her apartment for that summer and applying to an incubator became like the primary milestone because that's how we felt we could properly organize, incorporate launch, potentially get some early stage funding.

Chris Erwin:

Okay. Did you eventually join an incubator?

Nicole Staple:

We did. It was called Dream Adventures out of Philadelphia. One of the founders of David's Bridal was involved in the incubator and that was why we chose that one and he became our mentor during those three and a half months.

Chris Erwin:

Interesting. Okay. So you get into Dream Adventures. Helpful experience?

Nicole Staple:

It was really helpful. I think we realized the value more and more once we left. It created a discipline that I think can be hard to create yourself if you're a first-time founder, which is being held accountable to KPIs every single week even when you don't really have a business. It caused us to do things very, very quickly. It removed us from our friends and family. We were in the same apartments and pens campus. And I think it allowed us to focus-

Chris Erwin:

So you were down in Philadelphia.

Nicole Staple:

We were down in Philadelphia. It allowed us to focus.

Chris Erwin:

Okay.

Nicole Staple:

And we ultimately raised some capital after it, which was obviously pivotal to being able to launch the business.

Chris Erwin:

So was there a demo day at the end?

Nicole Staple:

There was.

Chris Erwin:

And you raised some money from that demo day?

Nicole Staple:

We raised around 250,000 I think out of the gates and I believe that year, we raised another 250. So maybe 500 came out of that initial demo day.

Chris Erwin:

Wow. So this is exciting. You meet Sonali in your MBA program. You have the idea. You commit to it after graduation. You're working on it. You get into the incubator like check, then you raise some seed capital check. So you guys must be feeling like, "All right. Here we go. We're on this path. Things are looking up." Is that what you were feeling at the time?

Nicole Staple:

I feel like we felt desperate all the time. A lot of things were happening though. Sonali found out she was pregnant the day our incubator started. The day we launched our first pop-up shop which was like our coming out party of the whole thing was the day she had her baby.

Chris Erwin:

Wow. Okay.

Nicole Staple:

So April 5th, 2013 was the day we essentially early sort of beta launched Brideside the day she had the baby. So nothing in our history has ever been smooth. In fact, our first investment that was actually going to truly allow us to pay ourselves like a little bit of money which we ultimately weren't able to do for a while was through a large angel group in Philadelphia and we thought we had the investment. One of the managing partners from the group was doing a final meet and greet in Chicago, flew in to meet us. I don't think they knew Sonali was pregnant and we never mention it. She was eight months pregnant. She was big. He came, he left and they told us they were passing because we were located in Chicago. You have to ask yourself is that really why they passed on the deal? It was very tough for both of us.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. You thought that you had that investment like in the bag. It was all sorted. And then that just changes. That's interesting. So I mean, one, looking from outside, people think like wow, this is a team that's really checking the boxes. They're growing. They've raised money. Through the incubator, they're learning. They have a beta test. But on the inside, you guys felt like, "Oh, we're just like every day, we're struggling through this." Just barely getting through these milestones. It's exciting but there's just so much more to do. No guarantees of success.

Nicole Staple:

Yeah. When you're feeling broke, you have tons of student loans. You are trying to get something off the ground and nothing feels like it's working. I think it became very obvious at that moment that we were also women in this industry.

Chris Erwin:

Explain that.

Nicole Staple:

Well, Sonali being pregnant I think was the reason that we lost that investment. I think that was very obvious to us at the time. So the reality of how we were perceived by this investment community and by the startup community actually became like very real at that point and I think you know Sonali got a lot of questions, "How can you be a mom and a startup founder?" I think there was a lot of bias at the time there and that was just becoming very clear to us that that was a factor.

Chris Erwin:

You're being punished for who you are and your identity which is probably an accelerant to your business because you intimately understand the bridesmaid's journey and that investors are punishing you for that. That's got to be so frustrating.

Nicole Staple:

Yeah. I think, look. I think there's just biases that are out there and I think you can feel sometimes like you're being held to a different standard, but ultimately that came and went and that was a reality. There was like a triple whammy as we scaled our business that year around fundraising. It was very tough for us. One was, I think being women founders but having a women focused consumer business. A lot of early stage investors are investing based on passion or just something that they personally care about, which is understandable. It's usually their personal money of their high net worth. When men generally control 90 to 95% of that capital, they just don't orient towards a woman's consumer product. They don't understand. So that was one.

Chris Erwin:

I can't relate to it.

Nicole Staple:

I think the biases of being a new mom, having a co-founder, that new mom or being young women founders, there's probably unconscious bias there being in the Midwest, less than 5% of capital at the time was going towards Midwest companies. Being in weddings and being in consumer generally less than 5% of VC goes to consumer goods businesses. So I think there was just a lot working against us that I didn't even realize at the time. So you put a lot of pressure on yourself. I spent a lot of years just thinking that everything that didn't go our way was like directly my fault and I think now I have a little bit more perspective for just how hard it is for everyone.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. But as you start to reflect on that, did that make you think like, "Hey, the odds are against us. This might just not be possible."

Nicole Staple:

There have been many moments in the business where we were unsure whether we would be able to move forward and some of that uncertainty was... A lot of times, it was capital related. Sometimes there were moments operationally where we were like is this growing as fast as it should? Is this working? Is it not working? But there was one of those moments that I think was fundraising related where Sonali and I were at a restaurant down the street from our co-working space and we were having the conversation, "Do we keep going?"

Chris Erwin:

Oh, wow.

Nicole Staple:

I was started getting really emotional and crying at the table.

Chris Erwin:

What year was this?

Nicole Staple:

This conversation was probably 2015 at that point. And we were eating Shishito peppers as an appetizer.

Chris Erwin:

Okay. Good memory.

Nicole Staple:

And the waitress came over and said, "Is everything okay over here?" Because I was visibly upset and I told her I got one of the really spicy ones. I just remember that so well because it was really funny in the moment and I sort of pulled it together. One thing Sonali and I have always been really proud of is that in those moments, we've always stayed true to some of the key metrics in our business that allowed us to make the decision. So while it definitely is our baby and our passion project on some level, I think we've always had a very practical approach to the business.

Nicole Staple:

That's important because you're managing investors money and you're also managing people who are relying on you for a job. I think it's very important to be clear headed in these decisions on whether how fast you scale up or down or whether you go on or not and we always had some very key metrics around how likely a customer was to buy from us if she had heard about us and signed up for the site and how much she was spending with us. That became sort of our tried and true barometer and we ultimately were always very strong on that and also actually Net Promoter Score customer satisfaction like how much people liked our product. We were, say, very, very close to those numbers from literally day one in the business and that allowed us to navigate those decisions. And if we felt that those numbers were exceptionally good, we would keep going.

Chris Erwin:

When did you feel that after that conversation, there was an inflection point where like, "Okay, we really have something here and you're like the investor interest is, it's really starting to gel and manifest. Real money is flowing our way." What was that next moment?

Nicole Staple:

I think when we moved to a real office that became a moment for us. We moved to this really cool refurbished warehouse in the west loop where we still have our headquarters. At the time, it was 4,200 square feet. And I say at the time, because we've now taken over like the whole building. And 4,200 square feet seemed like massive to us and we decided... We had experimented in our co-working space with showrooming having women come in and try on dresses in person and it was astonishing to us that groups of women would buzz up to an office and try on dresses in a 200 square foot space literally running around in their bras and underwears in the hallway to try on dresses with us when we were literally less than 10 minutes away from some of the nicest bridal salons in the city.

Chris Erwin:

Wow, yeah.

Nicole Staple:

So we decided something there was working. So we got this new office and we decided the front part was going to be this cool lofty showroom experience and the back part was going to be our office, but it felt massive. So we said, "Okay, we'll lease it out to other companies. We'll try to recoup some of our rent expense." Within a few weeks, we felt like we were already busting out of the seams on that space."

Chris Erwin:

Oh, wow. Exciting.

Nicole Staple:

So that really felt like exciting. I was so proud to show people our real office and the showroom experience, we outfitted it for like $3,000 and within a year, it was like doing over a million bucks with people coming to try on dresses there.

Chris Erwin:

What year is this?

Nicole Staple:

This was in 2016.

Chris Erwin:

Okay, wow.

Nicole Staple:

And so we felt that we were really tapping into something with the showrooming experience. That was also giving us more insight into the customer experience more generally, which was helping inform our technology experience and our digital styling as well, which has become a huge differentiator for Brideside. We never took our eye off the prize on delivering an exceptional customer experience and we continued to invest in that, and that's very much what we're known for today. So we felt that we were really carving out something different. And then the next summer I think in 2017, we had one of our largest wholesale partners, brands, designers, went bankrupt essentially overnight.

Chris Erwin:

Wow.

Nicole Staple:

That was a huge moment for us because a lot of things happened then. We could have totally lost our shirts as a business, but we made a lot of really good decisions at that moment that ultimately led to us creating a growth strategy that would involve us becoming more direct to consumer manufacturing our own product, expanding the showroom experience while continuing to expand the technology experience. And I think that gave us a really defensible business model for mass scale.

Chris Erwin:

So this is an interesting moment to pause on because I know from having known Nicole now from early days of business school, in her business journey that in the beginning challenging and raising capital. And there was other companies that had actually raised... Doing something similar to what you were doing direct to consumer in the wedding industry and in retail that raising multiples of what you had raised. I know that that was really challenging and frustrating for you. But something we always talked about was like Nicole, you guys are super sharp operators. You have good KPIs in place. You have something here. Stay lean and stay resilient, and you did. Then at this point. I think around 2017, 2018, there are some of these competitors that started to fall by the wayside, were no longer around. Tell us about that moment.

Nicole Staple:

When the competitive landscape started to really shift both big players and smaller players and venture back players were, as you sort of put it, falling to the wayside or going out of business or the businesses were being acquired, we definitely felt that there was an opportunity opening up for us and we wanted to very much go at it full force. I mentioned I think the opportunity was really this completely integrated model where we were manufacturing our own products, so higher margin structure. We were able to deliver product faster and a more competitive price point to our customers. We had more control over product design.

Nicole Staple:

We now knew how to do showrooms. We had done a partnership with Hudson's bay company and some Lord and Taylor stores to experiment with that. So we were sort of ready to scale that. We were still really well known for our service experience and just this like concierge stylist experience. We had seen what we believed were cracks in other business models out there, some of our competitors and we felt that, "Hey, we're still growing." We've been really lean from a capital perspective. We were always really disciplined about customer acquisition. We've always been profitable on customer acquisition and we felt that some of our competitors for whatever reason, probably a lot of venture capital pressure had maybe been forced to grow more quickly than the business could sustain.

Nicole Staple:

So we felt that it was really our time. We had to wait for the dust to settle a little bit because it was a very unfriendly environment for us to raise capital at that point because there had been so much negative press around the wed tech space, the wedding technology.

Chris Erwin:

Wed tech?

Nicole Staple:

Wed tech. That's what it was called at the time. So we waited it out a little bit and when we were ready to really scale actually our private label, we had actually already started to scale our private label. That's when we went out for a larger round.

Chris Erwin:

And when was this?

Nicole Staple:

That would have been the end of 2018.

Chris Erwin:

End of 2018?

Nicole Staple:

Yeah. So we had raised 6.2 million up until that point and we wanted to raise a 7 million series A.

Chris Erwin:

On top of that 6 million?

Nicole Staple:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Erwin:

And did you feel at this point when your competitors are, as I said falling by the wayside, did this feel validating to you? Did it get you excited or was there another feeling that you had?

Nicole Staple:

I think on some level it was validating and that it's hard for everyone. I think there's a lot of FOMO or inferiority stuff going on in your head in this world particularly if you read like TechCrunch every day. You always feel like everyone's doing better than you are. But what I realized is that we were actually doing pretty well. We had generated quite a good amount of sales volume on a relatively small amount of capital. We had proven a lot out. We were acquiring customers profitably and we felt that we had a lot ahead of us.

Nicole Staple:

So in that sense I think it felt validating, but for me if anything, it's a constant reminder around being prudent operators and really responsible stewards of capital. I think you are always rooting for any other founder around you. I mean, you look up to them. You want to learn from people who are starting companies and scaling companies around you and you never want to see a company fail even if it is a competitor. I guess there's some pleasure in that, but at the end of the day you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say like, "Gosh, I better make sure that that's not me tomorrow."

Chris Erwin:

It's really interesting how you put that. I mean, essentially you're describing how you look at the world as positive some, because if this is all hard all around and if another entrepreneur is succeeding, then there's chance for me as well versus... I know being realistic and many of us will go on LinkedIn and we scroll through like look at them, they've raised all this money or they've gotten this new job promotion and it's hard not to be jealous.

Chris Erwin:

Now, we're talking about broader issues with comparison culture and social media. I think it's really thoughtful Nicole how you described it. This is hard for everybody and we all want to win. There is space for all of us to rise up together.

Nicole Staple:

Right, right. Absolutely.

Chris Erwin:

Just a little anecdote from this before we get on to the next area. With my consulting firm, I was actually advising one of the wed tech companies that was in Nicole's fear. I think I remember telling Nicole that I was going to... I was giving her a preview. I was going to take on this assignment. And I just know during this moment that you're probably thinking through a lot of things through the future of your business. How did it feel when I asked you about that? This might be an interesting reflection of the head space of an entrepreneur.

Nicole Staple:

Well, you asked me if it was okay and I said no.

Chris Erwin:

There's a little bit more nuances of the conversation. But okay, you didn't want me to take on the assignment.

Nicole Staple:

I didn't.

Chris Erwin:

And why was that?

Nicole Staple:

Well, everything felt personal.

Chris Erwin:

Because I'm very smart and I was just going to...

Nicole Staple:

Yeah. You were too smart and you were going to give them... Well, it was a few things. One, is that I think that as an entrepreneur I've tended to probably be, as I am being in this podcast right now, overly transparent and open. I think it's important to learn about the ups and downs of a startup and I confided in a lot of my business school friends mostly around the downs because the ups, you don't need help on the ups. Those are great. They happen all the time for us.

Nicole Staple:

I don't want to make it seem like it's all downs, but the downs are the really tough part in your job as a CEO or a founder is to constantly deal with the down. So I felt like I had been really transparent with you about those. So you going into another business knowing all my secrets, made me uncomfortable but then also like everything with the business at the time, it felt personal. I was saying I hold a personal grudge against every single friend or family member who got married or was in a wedding and didn't buy a Brideside dress.

Chris Erwin:

Yes, understood. To bring up this conversation not to debate whether proceeding was right or wrong or anything like that because my belief-

Nicole Staple:

It was fine ultimately.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. My belief was it was a company with a bit of a different business model, but I think it was more like... What's interesting is just the emotional reaction that it was just, "Hey, I look to my peers for help and guidance." And this felt like just a personal saying, "Hey, maybe this person is not going to be more focused on helping another company." And I really need all the help and all the emotional support I can get.

Nicole Staple:

And sure. In retrospect, was that emotional reaction the right one? Probably not.

Chris Erwin:

I think it worked out for us. We're having a podcast right now. Nicole agreed to be on it. So we are not mortal enemies.

Nicole Staple:

We're good friends. We're still good friends.

Chris Erwin:

We are still good friends. It worked out. So we're going to talk about a big defining moment that happened in Nicole's personal and professional career I think between 2018 and 2019. Professionally, I think you raise your largest round of financing to date, I think around, I'll call it 6 to $7 million. In addition to this, your husband was also diagnosed with a very severe form of cancer, kind of concurrently all around the same time. Tell us about this moment.

Nicole Staple:

In early 2018, my husband and I were coming back from a Hawaiian vacation where he hadn't been feeling well and it ultimately led to a diagnosis of cholangiocarcinoma which is very rare cancer of the bile ducts. So around that time, we were forced for his medical treatment to move to Rochester, Minnesota where he received a liver transplant summer of 2018.

Chris Erwin:

From his twin brother.

Nicole Staple:

From his twin brother, which was essentially 75 to 80% of people have essentially long-term survival. It can be curative. The cancer they remove, the cancerous organ and after that, we spent several months in Jacksonville, Wyoming for his recovery, in LA with you to be in warmer weather. And throughout that time is when a lot of this competitive shake-up was happening. We were also preparing to raise that growth equity round. It was incredibly tough, obviously. We thought though things were sort of on the up and up.

Chris Erwin:

For Eric.

Nicole Staple:

For Eric. So it more became a matter of balancing, working remotely and I was his primary caretaker. He took on an incredibly anti-vegan, anti-cancer diet. So cooking became a big part of my life and spending time together and taking care of him, and also running the business.

Chris Erwin:

Running the business as the CEO of this... How big was your team at this point?

Nicole Staple:

We were probably nearing 50 or 60 people at this point and during that time, we went through a potential M&A. We almost got acquired. We almost acquired two other companies at that time. So there was a lot going on, balancing a lot of different things. And then very unfortunately as their financing round was picking up in May 2019, Eric became ill again just under a year after his transplant and they found that there was micro metastasis in the bottom of his bile duct in this one area they didn't remove and it ultimately became terminal at that point.

Nicole Staple:

So he was airlifted. I'm leaving out a lot of details, but airlifted back to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and as we were receiving that terminal diagnosis, I was literally finalizing disclosure agreements on a round.

Chris Erwin:

Geez.

Nicole Staple:

So it was taking phone calls from waiting rooms and hospital rooms sort of non-stop for several weeks.

Chris Erwin:

Okay. In this moment, this is like an unfathomable moment for pretty much 99.9% of the population. You have so much going on in your life. Did you feel that this was unsustainable? Did you feel that you were just going to crumble, but it was every day, just get through the next day or did you have this feeling at the moment of, "No, you got this. I'm an all-powerful CEO and wife, and I'm just going to power through"? What was going through your head?

Nicole Staple:

I think I felt a deep responsibility to the company. We needed the capital, we needed to close the round and it was really important for me to stay clear-headed and disciplined enough to make that happen. I also felt that a lot of the ways that we had handled my husband's illness was around really coming up with an action plan and an educated one as quickly as possible. That was sort of how we had handled the entire illness, and that became no different either.

Nicole Staple:

So I immediately pulled together a squad team. We came up with a plan to do as much research as possible around the new options that we had mobilized a lot of people on different parts of research and talking to new doctors because at this point the options became increasingly more limited and we had to think more out of the box more away from traditional medicine and he was also going through a lot medically at that time and he needed to be stabilized.

Nicole Staple:

So it was sort of just firing on all cylinders at that point to sort of get it done and obviously trying to be as optimistic about his outcomes as we could sort of like the time we could buy ourselves, whether it be options for us and clinical trials or things like that.

Chris Erwin:

You're taking essentially like a business approach of how you built Brideside to his cancer treatment.

Nicole Staple:

Yeah, absolutely.

Chris Erwin:

And just thinking like, "Hey, here's a problem. Let's come up with a solution. Let's do a research and figure out different ways going forward." In doing that, that it's a very smart approach, but was that also a way for you to just have comfort and how to deal with it which is we have a process, we get into it, power forward?

Nicole Staple:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think my husband was oriented towards that way too. I think it made having sort of hope, made a plan, made things feel better. So in that moment, that's what we were thinking, but I think the thing with cancer is you don't know where you are on the clock, ever. You don't know how far... At that point, he had no metastasis. We didn't know how long we had and we were still just adjusting to this reality. I mean, it was really unfathomable to us. We felt that he had done everything right and we had caught it early and that he was going to be fine. So we were really adjusting to this reality real time and so I think that was the reason we were just trying to get through it and he was just trying to get healthy. He was going through a lot medically.

Nicole Staple:

So this was May 2019. We closed around literally the exact same time he got diagnosed and then when we closed around, we had already lined up a lot of new hires. We were about to sign a bunch of leases for showrooms. So literally the day after the round closed, our head of people and culture came on, our CFO came on board. We signed several leases within that first several weeks. We started scaling up our sales team. A lot happened right then, and I think it was really over the next two or three months that it became sort of unimaginable to manage all of those things.

Nicole Staple:

But the one thing that I'm really proud of from that time is that I do think that I made the space to spend time with my husband. And I think overall, after his diagnosis while it sounds like I was managing a lot which I was and certainly probably worked too much, I do think that we... It was the first time I had truly prioritized something and someone else ahead of the business to be honest even though we had been married for almost five years at that point.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. And I was at your beautiful wedding in Victor, Idaho.

Nicole Staple:

So I do think it was an important lesson around, I wasn't a mom. I think oftentimes people, or a dad, will find being a parent like forces you to do that, and we didn't have kids. So I think like this forced me to do that.

Chris Erwin:

Wow. So I mean, I just want to pause on this. You just have for the first time since you had graduated business school and working on Brideside, this was the first time that you would prioritized something else other than the business.

Nicole Staple:

Yes.

Chris Erwin:

That's a big statement. I mean, that's-

Nicole Staple:

It's really true.

Chris Erwin:

It's like eight years of your life. I mean, it clearly just shows your commitment to the Brideside and the team and the mission, the problem that you're solving in the industry. But I think it's also reflects on just entrepreneurs that can get lost in their business for better or for worse. So this is probably a unique moment where the business has needed you for many years and Eric, and the family also really needed you. Being as one of Eric's very close friends needed you as well. A good life lesson to think about too is balance going forward. Do you feel that that lesson is something you're applying going forward?

Nicole Staple:

Yeah, 100%. So your listeners know how this ended up. We were sort of like in May of that year, he passed away, August 12th of 2019. So I think now the reality is that I have a new life and that's a very important reality for me to sort of embrace and that it's never going to be like it was. Sonali, my co-founder who is also very good friends with Eric, we got together shortly after he passed away and we said Brideside has been this amazing journey that we've built. We were on our way to doubling the size of the team at this point. We're growing very fast and we said nothing that happened before is actually really relevant for what the future brings. Nothing is going to be the same in how we interacted as friends and as couple friends. Socially, the company is at an entirely new place and I think there's something incredibly liberating about that feeling.

Chris Erwin:

That is a powerful statement. I intimately witnessed you, Nicole during this period and you're an incredible pillar of strength for all of us around this. And just speaking to all of you investors and potential executive recruits for Nicole going forward, everything that I've seen her manage throughout every single aspect of her life is so impressive. So I would back this woman with anything, with any unlimited amounts of capital. That being said just, it's such an incredible story and appreciate you sharing that for everybody.

Chris Erwin:

So next up, this is the last segment before we get into our very exciting fire round, but Nicole, you're now in Brooklyn. You've moved to New York City. You're living here. You have a new flagship store on 20 East 20th. It's 2020, what's next up for Brideside?

Nicole Staple:

We just launched bridal gown. So as I mentioned before, we used to be just bridesmaid dresses, but now we are doing it all. So we have private label bridal gowns. We sell some top designers. We have these beautiful showrooms. We just launched a few new cities. So we launched a new big flagship in Chicago. We launched on Newbury Street in Boston.

Chris Erwin:

Wow.

Nicole Staple:

As you mentioned, we just launched bridal in New York and now we have a big store here. So we are really looking to take over the world at this point. That's pretty much what it comes down to. We have this tribe. We're now almost 130 teammates, predominantly women across all functions, all levels, operations technology.

Chris Erwin:

Predominantly women, is that like 60%?

Nicole Staple:

Like 96%.

Chris Erwin:

96% women. Okay, yeah. Global domination by women.

Nicole Staple:

Yep. We are a very diverse tribe in terms of some aspects of our makeup and others not so much, but we'll continue to build diversity into our culture. We are not only focused on the top-line growth story, but we are really focused on who we are as a company right now. I think that's something that is really, really hard to do when you're working on a lean budget and you're just trying to make it and continue to grow and prove yourself to the world, but we are super focused on who we are as a culture at how we create a company of belonging, how we're progressive and the types of policies that we're making for women and that has become a major focus for us as well.

Chris Erwin:

Got it. Wow. I'm just looking at Nicole's face light up during this conversation. So very exciting times ahead. What would you say is your favorite part of this job? Of all the many hats that you wear and everything that you do, what's your favorite part?

Nicole Staple:

It's a good question and like my co-founder said a long time ago, if it's not fun, it isn't worth it. It definitely always hasn't been fun, but I think now, I'm really working on embracing the fun and like the silly moments. In fact, Sonali and I now don't end a meeting without either singing a made-up rap lyric or recommending a song to one another. We're trying to bring in that playfulness into the day and that is really, I think what it's all about particularly around our people. So I have to say my favorite part is like getting to hang out with the amazing people that believe in us and believe in the mission and come to work every day.

Chris Erwin:

Wow. Can you share a recent rap lyric that you came up with Sonali?

Nicole Staple:

That is private founder business.

Chris Erwin:

There's an intimate relationship that's formed between Sonali and Nicole and I don't want to get in the way of that. Understood. Before I fully let you off on moving to some of the easier questions, let's talk about the direct-to-consumer industry as a whole, right? There's some challenges that are emerging in real time. Casper, one of the big name direct consumer brands has raised lots of capital, just went public. I think some people are looking at their IPO as... It's now trading at a discount to its IPO stock price.

Chris Erwin:

Recently, I think the CEO and founder of Outdoor Voices just stepped down. They're having some challenges with their user acquisition and their growth. I think a lot of people were talking about just growing saturation of user acquisition channels. It's becoming more expensive to run these businesses, and a few other factors. You hear about this in the industry in which you operate. How do you feel during all this? What's going through your mind?

Nicole Staple:

I mean, it's scary. I do think there's some softening. There's definitely some softening in the consumer markets across all industries for sure and we're seeing that in our industry too. For us, we are really dedicated to discipline and that is just how we're trying to position ourselves to navigate through any unexpected ups and downs. Historically our businesses has been relatively predictable in some ways around user acquisition. And the sales people have to get married. When they sign up, we know when they're going to get married and it can be predictable.

Nicole Staple:

So I think for us, it's really about scenario planning and downside protection to make sure that in a worst-case scenario, we're still protecting our investors and we're protecting our people. So we continue to just be really maniacally focused on the metrics that we talked about from day one, really and continuing to be really nimble. I think if you build flexibility into your model around manufacturing your own product, which channels, you can sell on digital versus brick and mortar, I think we can flex each one relatively seamlessly. So I think just remaining incredibly focused on results and not getting ahead of our skis on growth is what we're going to do.

Chris Erwin:

All right. Let's move into the closing and rapid fire questions. Are you ready for this Nicole?

Nicole Staple:

I'm ready.

Chris Erwin:

Okay. I don't think Nicole can get closer to the mic than where she is right now. All right. So there's, I think about seven questions that we have here. So let's get into it. Proudest accomplishment of your Brideside career?

Nicole Staple:

Okay. So definitely that time our big designer went out of business. We all gathered at the office. At midnight when we heard they were filing chapter seven, my co-founder called their factory that night, we had to make a lot of real-time decisions that could have involved not being 100% honest to our consumers. There's a lot of uncertainty in that moment around protecting our own exposure, what to tell our customers. Do we refund dresses?

Nicole Staple:

We weren't sure if we were going to be able to deliver dresses, but we made a bunch of decisions based on our values as a company that night and really rallied, and it ended up being amazing. I think it was like one of our proudest moments as a company just seeing everyone come together for it.

Chris Erwin:

Wow, that's awesome. Great, story. All right, 2020. What do you want to do less and more of this year?

Nicole Staple:

I want to do more reading, which was a theme for me over the past year and so I've been committed to taking more quiet time for myself to read and reflect. I want to do more with my hands.

Chris Erwin:

Do more with your hands, what does that mean?

Nicole Staple:

Less typey-typey. So I actually have a typewriter now. So I've been trying experimenting writing more on a typewriter instead of just a laptop. But I would love to be more crafty with my hands generally. Just be able to like fix more things, build more things. So I'm starting to think about what I could do there. I want to do less Netflix.

Chris Erwin:

Less Netflix. Do you think you watch a lot of Netflix?

Nicole Staple:

Actually, since I've been in New York I haven't been Netflixing as Netflix seems a thing.

Chris Erwin:

You see Netflix and chill, but you're at the avant-garde of media. So Netflixing is a new thing.

Nicole Staple:

I'm going to Netflixing. I've been doing less Netflixing in the city because I can-

Chris Erwin:

#Netflixing.

Nicole Staple:

There's so much to do here. Yeah, hashtag. So yeah less Netflixing more reading.

Chris Erwin:

Got it. I like that. Entrepreneurial advice. What one to two personal characteristics primarily drive your success? What do you think?

Nicole Staple:

Oh, man. I mean the first is just grit. I think the resilience and grit, like this shit can be... Sorry, if you have to bleep that, can be really a marathon and not a sprint. And I think like getting off your ass over and over again can be really, really important. Just figuring out that north star and not losing sight of it, is really important. I think the second thing, which we've talked about a little bit is I've done a lot of exploration over the past few years on sort of how I am received by others.

Nicole Staple:

I think one of the things that I've really enjoyed learning about myself is a deeper understanding of my personality and my communication style and how that is very effective in front of certain people like investors or our board, and how maybe when you're talking to a junior employee or someone who it just is oriented completely differently than you, how that can be perceived. It's so important. It's so important in building culture and relationships with your employees and your team, and I think I've learned a lot about myself there and have become a better operator and founder because of it.

Chris Erwin:

All right. So last three. We're going to make these rapid, rapid fire.

Nicole Staple:

So stop talking so much. Got it.

Chris Erwin:

One to two sciences responses. But this is great. You're a gem.

Nicole Staple:

I feel like these are heavy questions.

Chris Erwin:

Just part of the challenge that you signed up for. All right. Last three advice for director consumer professionals going into 2020.

Nicole Staple:

Cash, manage it well.

Chris Erwin:

Manage your cash well. Words of wisdom. Second to last question, any future startup ambitions?

Nicole Staple:

One or two words, cool. Yes.

Chris Erwin:

You can say a little bit more.

Nicole Staple:

More social justice oriented. I mean, I'm really passionate, I'm really very concerned about the climate and I really love the idea-

Chris Erwin:

Environmental climate.

Nicole Staple:

Yeah. So I really love the idea of how you connect job opportunities back to also like environmental opportunities and ways we can do that better.

Chris Erwin:

Lastly, it's pretty easy one. After hearing this amazing story, how can people get in contact with you, investors, partners, whoever else, designers?

Nicole Staple:

Brideside.com. You can go check it out sign up and on Instagram @brideside.

Chris Erwin:

Easy. All right. Thank you, Nicole. This was a lot of fun.

Nicole Staple:

Yeah, this is awesome. Thanks, Chris.

Chris Erwin:

Wow. That interview was super fun. I felt I knew Nicole's whole Brideside story before we even sat down for this interview. But I actually learned a lot of new things about her during this recording and I'm even more impressed and inspired by her. I can't believe that was even possible. And that's what makes this podcast so fun. I get to learn more about some of my favorite people on the planet and then get to share their amazing stories with all of you. And this is just the first episode.

Chris Erwin:

We have so many more awesome interviews lined up, so stay tuned. Our next interview features Adam Sachs, the COO of Team Coco and podcaster extraordinaire. We actually grew up in Jersey together, so there's some fun history between us. That episode will drop later this month so be on the lookout.

Chris Erwin:

The Come Up is written and hosted by me, Chris Erwin and is a production of RockWater Industries. Please rate and review this show on Apple Podcast and remember to subscribe wherever you listen to our show. And if you really dig us, feel free to forward The Come Up to a friend. You can sign up for our company newsletter at wearerockwater.com/newsletter. And you can follow us on Twitter @tcupod.

The Come Up is engineered by Daniel Tureck. Music is by Devon Bryant. Logo and branding is by Kevin Zazzali. And special thanks to Andrew Cohen and Sean Diep from the RockWater team.

9 episodes