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Business: Bespoke Post
Location: New York City
Company Size: 4 employees
Owners: Rishi Prabhu and Steve Szaronos
Twitter: @bespokepost Facebook/bespokepost
See Bespoke Post featured in the American Way magazine
Bespoke Post's Favorite Mancessories:
Sempli - Coolest glassware out there. Use them for your whisky or wine glasses.
Lot18 - The best way to discover & buy new, affordable, and delicious wines
Indochino - Never wear baggy again. They custom fit their clothing for you. With lasers!
Sriracha - Best. Hot Sauce. Ever.
Lagavulin - Single Malt - Neat. 'Nuff Said.
The Making of a Gentleman
Rishi Prabhu and Steve Szaronos are in the business of spreading awesome… one box at a time. In 2011, Prabhu and Szaronos launched Bespoke Post, a New York-based startup, aimed at turning guys into gentlemen by equipping them with “mancessories” (their term for the essential items that every man should own). “Men hate shopping. We make it easy for them to buy amazing products without the pain of shopping” say Prabhu. We recently caught up with Prabhu and Szaronos to find out more about their unique service and talk about the challenges and triumphs of running a startup.
Give us the rundown, what does your business offer?
Bespoke Post’s unique business model allows customers to subscribe to a service that provides themed collections of hard-to-find trendy products. Customers subscribe online and have the option to purchase a “box of awesome” each month. Boxes are delivered directly to their doorsteps. At $45 per box customers get a lot of bang for their buck – shipping is included and the retail value of each collection often exceeds $100. Non-commital types, have no fear, customers get to preview each month’s offering and there is never an obligation to buy.
How did you meet and what did you do before launching Bespoke Post?
Szaronos: We met while at business school at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Prabhu: Steve is our operations expert - he was a consultant for Deloitte and then worked at Callaway Golf in operations roles. He has a ton of experience in inventory management, warehousing and supplier negotiation. I have a marketing and product background. I was a consultant for several years focused on data-driven marketing, and also worked at Google and then Groupon in marketing strategy roles.
Tell us about your experience with Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator – New York (ERA NYC).
Prabhu: It was a great experience. Jon, Charlie & Murat (the founders of the program) are smart, influential, and supportive. We had access to mentors, investors and partners that helped jumpstart our business. Probably the best part was working with the 9 other startups that were part of our class.
You had a bit of a shift in your business plan as you entered ERA NYC. Tell us about that.
Szaronos: Our original idea was for a mobile advertising-technology company - a very different business. As we built it out and learned more, we realized that the market was not what we originally thought and was significantly outside our wheelhouse.
When you devote your life to a startup it’s important that you are passionate and have the right background to make it work. Once we realized this didn’t apply to our old business we did some soul searching and found something that fit our expertise and interests. It was serendipitous and right under our nose the entire time.
How did you come up with the idea and name for Bespoke Post?
Prabhu: The word “Bespoke” has traditionally been used when referring to made-to-fit / personalized suits made in Savile Row in London, though the term has been applied to other custom products and services lately. Our goal is to create boxes that match our members’ varied interests, so the idea of “personalized” makes a lot of sense for us. “Post” is because we send stuff in the mail.
Szaronos: We realized that a service that helped men who want to buy great finds but hate searching for them would help a lot of guys out - would be a phenomenal service, so we paired our strengths together and came up with Bespoke Post.
Prabhu: If you look at the landscape of eCommerce companies, the majority of them have been built for women, with a men’s version tacked on later. Men are underwowed with what is out there right now. We’re changing that. We always felt there wasn’t enough awesome in this country. Who better to fix that than us?
Tell us about the products that you feature. How do you decide which products are worthy of inclusion within a box of awesome?
Szaronos: We scour stores in SoHo, visit markets, and work with experts in various fields to find the best products. It’s a time consuming process because there is a lot of junk out there, but when we find a good product it just clicks.
Each box is an encompassing experience, so all items complement one another. We also tell guys about what they’re receiving, so they know how to wear their new Indochino pocket square or what to pair with their Rick’s Picks Mean Beans.
Prabhu: We spent hours testing different whisky tumblers for our first box. Sure, we could have used water rather than alcohol, but where’s the fun in that? In general, we test each item thoroughly. We also have a panel of experts help us evaluate products to ensure they’re right for our members.
Szaronos: Also, if an item isn’t up to par with what our members expect, or doesn’t fit into that month’s theme, it’s not going in the box.
Obviously your service is tailored for men, what else can you tell us about your customer base?
Szaronos: Our members typically are 25-40 year old urban professionals. They want to be knowledgeable and trendy, but don't have the time to research what the coolest whisky glasses are, or the best pocket squares. We take care of the entire process and let our members sit back and relax.
About a quarter of our members received the subscription as a gift. It's a great gift for a woman to buy her husband, boyfriend, brother or even father. Men are tough to shop for, so we make it easy to give a gift while still being thoughtful. And awesome.
Prabhu: About 10% of our customers are women. A woman who likes cigars, whisky and sports? Gold.
How do you market your products and generate buzz about your company?
Prabhu: So far all of our customers have heard about us through word of mouth. We have a lot of Facebook and Twitter interaction – for example, members post pictures using the products that we send them. It's great to see.
As a finalist at ERA NYC you were awarded a travel grant of 10,000 Business ExtrAA points from American Airlines – that's enough points for five roundtrip tickets. How have the Business ExtrAA points helped your business?
Prabhu: We used them to fly to San Francisco to speak with potential partners. As a startup it would have been tough to justify the cost without the points, and the trip ended up being very valuable.
Szaronos: Costs are pretty tight at this stage of the game. Having the ability (and flexibility) to book flights using our Business ExtrAA points was a huge benefit for us.
What is the most rewarding aspect of owning your own business?
Szaronos: Creating something from nothing. And making people happy with it.
What is the hardest part about being a startup in today's economy?
Prabhu: People are tight on cash. When they do spend money they want a good deal. That's tablestakes. But it has to be more than a deal. The great part about Bespoke Post is that we are making hard to find products from emerging brands more accessible. People want to learn how to enjoy their artisan Columbus Salame, the story of the Swedish designer who made their Sempli whisky tumblers, or discover new wines from Lot18. It's a stark contrast from the mass-marketed products that dominated this country from the 60's until just recently.
What tips would you give someone looking to start a business?
Prabhu: Surround yourself with smart people. Don't be afraid to talk to other people about your idea. Don't be afraid to ignore people's advice – everyone has some and most of it is worthless.
What are your goals for Bespoke Post over the next few years?
Prabhu: Our goal is to spread the word about what we're doing over the next year. We're excited about what we've built and are confident that as more people find out about it they will be too.