Every month, in our aim to inspire D2C owners across the globe, we celebrate D2C brands who started their humble journey but made it big with their strong ethos, future-focus, and customer-centric approach. This time, we decode the success of Allbirds – a direct-to-consumer brand that recently FILED AN IPO (Initial Public Offering) on Nasdaq exchange.
Who would have thought that you could make sneakers out of the same wool as your Christmas sweaters? But Allbirds founders Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger did precisely that when they launched their Wool Runner sneaker made from merino wool in 2016. One of the fastest-growing sustainable lifestyle brands, Allbirds today has a valuation of $3 Billion. Yes, within five years of starting, Allbirds has achieved unicorn status. Here is their story and lessons other D2C brands can learn from the meteoric rise of Allbirds.
But before that, let’s start with how it all began!
The Story Of Allbirds – From Football to Footwear
A native of New Zealand, Tim Brown grew up to be a professional soccer player. His eight-year-long athlete career included a trip to the 2010 FIFA World Cup as New Zealand’s vice-captain before he called it quits in 2012. Even after retiring, one thing that could not stop bugging him was ‘the sneakers’. All the sponsored sneakers he got were often too flashy, with bright colors and logos throughout his career. He felt it was overdone and wanted something simple.
Tim knew about the superior quality of merino wool. He often wondered why such a remarkable, sustainable resource was virtually absent in the footwear industry. Inspired to bring sustainability to the footwear industry, he started researching more on the subject and launched the idea of Allbirds on Kickstarter in 2014, where he raised $119,000 in five days.
After the success he achieved on Kickstarter, Tim teamed up with Joey, a biotech engineer, and a renewables expert. Together, they crafted a revolutionary wool fabric and officially launched Allbirds in March of 2016 with the introduction of the Wool Runner Shoe.
Today, apart from selling the Wool Runners that made it relevant, Allbirds have extended its offerings to slip-on, waterproof shoes, and apparel.
Lessons For D2C Brands
1. Don’t be afraid of creating something new – Sustainable footwear sounds like a great concept today, but Tim Brown thought of this idea a decade ago, when people were not much aware of how consumption habits will impact the environment. Sustainability was not talked about in those times but the founders still went ahead to create a shoe that has renewable and biodegradable benefits. Another type of shoes that the brand creates is from tree fabric – the Tree Dashers. Therefore, Allbirds did not start to become famous footwear brands like “Nike” or “Reebok” but focused on creating something unique.
Apart from this, they also help in environmental sustainability by using:
- recycled cardboard for 90% of their packaging needs
- recycled plastic bottles for creating Allbirds shoelaces
2. Firmly believe in your idea/product – It’s okay if you have just one product but believe in it. Companies like Away and Casper too started with one product launch strategy and it paid dividends for them. Similarly, Allbirds had just one product – the Wool runner – with a minimalistic design and wasn’t as popular at all when they were launched. However, the founders believed in what they were creating and created a patented material.
If you visit Allbirds’ website, you will notice that their catalog of running shoes consists of only 4 types of shoes, apart from everyday sneakers. They are all available in neutral colors as well as limited edition colors that change from time to time. And, oh did you notice? The brand does not print logos on their shoes either.
3. Invest big in marketing – Allbirds spent between $400,000 and $500,000 a month on marketing in 2016. And it did reap results for the brand. People started talking about it even before the company sold its first sneakers. Allbirds’ marketing strategy included creating a buzz about the brand on social media channels, especially Instagram and Facebook, at least a month before its launch. This was their FIRST post on Instagram:
And they kept sharing photos every few days, reminding followers of their upcoming launch date. And all their posts use the hashtag #weareallbirds – to date.
Thanks to their social media strategy and the efforts they were putting into PR campaigns, Allbirds cultivated many followers who were interested in their shoes and their eco-friendly lifestyle. On the day of Allbirds’ official launch, TIME magazine published an article citing the brand for creating “the world’s most comfortable shoes”.
They also created a robust video marketing campaign to create awareness about their brand. In these videos, they explained how the shoes were made out of sustainable ingredients. Here is its link:
And this was not all! They also created a referral marketing strategy – the Allbirds Affiliate Program – that asked its fans to be:
- Social ambassadors and promote Allbirds via social media channels such as TikTok, YouTube, etc.
- Content creators and promote the brand in their blogs, podcasts. etc.
and get commission on all net sales and also some free products.
And ALL their investment in marketing paid off. Allbirds sold nearly $120,000 worth of shoes within their first five days.
4. Be consistent with the content you create – If you look at Allbirds’ social media handles, their website, or their Google ads, you will realize that two things remain common – their focus on creating comfortable shoes and the connection with being environment-friendly i.e their ongoing effort of reducing carbon footprint. This has been their focus with all the messaging being done across different platforms. So, every time a customer sees the content, they are reminded of how Allbirds is different from other brands. Consistency in content has helped Allbirds build brand credibility amongst their audience/customers.
5. Keep innovating/improving your products – People like your products because of the quality and uniqueness you give them. Allbirds focus always is to create better shoes for everyone. A way they have approached this is also by taking feedback from the customers. They create products that their customers want. For instance, they launched Kotare Sky Runner for women after a follower stated that “Please, please make the blue for women!! I would buy them in a heartbeat and I know I am not alone!”.
6. It’s okay if you don’t offer discounts – Everyone loves “BOGO”. And therefore, it is a strategy used by many companies to attract an audience. But Allbirds has a strict “no discounts” policy. And this is because they believe in “you get what you pay for”. They are confident that their shoes are worth the price they charge. Moreover, Allbirds shoes are pretty reasonable – starting from $95 and the most expensive shoe being priced at $145. See how they have justified their “no discount” policy on their website:
Instead of not giving discounts, they ask their customers to try on their shoes for 30 days, and if “they are not walking on cloud nine,” Allbirds will take them back — “no questions asked.”
Allbirds meteoric rise to success is nothing less than amazing, especially when its competitors were some of the biggest names in the footwear industry. But you now know how they did it. They offered products that were different and associated with a cause that impacts the world as a whole. While Allbirds has its unique story, its tactics and strategies can be used by all D2C brands to grow their business.
That’s all for this time! If you enjoyed reading the article as much as we did writing this for you, do let us know in the comments below 😊
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