The subscription box craze has tapped into a joy universal to all humans: Getting a present in the mail. Is there anything better? Maybe Santa, but only because he brings the presents right into your house. Well, for subscribers of Bend-based StrideBox, Christmas happens once a month.
The year-and-a-half old company provides a monthly box of treats and new products aimed at runners. We recently caught up with StrideBox founder James Erickson to learn more about his business, why runners make for the best customers and why running — or moving around at all — while wearing a giant beaver costume may be the next hot workout.
Startup Spotlight: StrideBox
Founder: James Erickson
Started: January 2013
Employees: The founder (and several temps who help fill the boxes each month).
Cardboard Yodas: None. But there is a coffee table made out of StrideBoxes, which seems very startup-y.
What do you do? We create a monthly subscription box of products for runners. The box costs $15 per month, and usually contains six to eight different items from categories including nutrition, apparel and accessories. For example, the first box we sent out had a travel water bottle, an energy gel and a bar, a pain relief gel, and this disposable towel that was like a giant wet nap.
Complete this sentence: We are like the _____ of/for ______ (Uber for private jets, Expedia for museum tours)
Well this sign explains everything
What inspired your company? I previously owned a company that provided full-service marketing mostly to dentists. I had worked for, and then, bought that business. But I wanted something that was more my own. I lived in Salem at the time, and I was in Footzone watching people look at their wall of nutrition products. I found myself wondering how people decide what to buy, and I started thinking about putting together a tester box.
At the time Birchbox was becoming popular and so was Dollar Shave Club. I put out an email and Facebook post to my friends to ask if they’d be interested in something like this, and I got about 40 responses. We initially thought about a box for hiking or outdoor sports. But what drew me to runners was their passion, they’re defined by it. Running is how runners identify themselves.
Do you run? I do, though not far. My wife is really the target market. She runs half marathons, and if she likes a product, it will be a hit.
So where do the box contents come from? We ask companies for products, and some approach us as well. Sometimes we’ll buy products at wholesale. Other times, companies will give us their products to gain exposure. In those cases, we’ll do a lot of promotion specifically for them. Ultimately want things that will be a good fit for our customers. To that end, we’ll even turn down products. For example, we get approached by a lot of diet-type companies and supplements, but that’s not something we want to include unless it really has a wide benefit to all our subscribers. We’re still trying to figure out how to deliver the best value in our box. We always try to include something a little bigger — like running sleeves, a water bottle or headband — and I think that sets us apart.
How’s business? I sent the first box out in February 2013 to 74 paid subscribers. We now have 3,500 subscribers and we just sent out our 20th box. People get really excited to open them. We’ve created monsters! They’ll post pictures on Instagram or Facebook when they get their boxes, and show what’s inside them. I have to remind people to watch out for spoilers. I even had one woman post a picture of herself at a race, wearing five or six items she’d received in her StrideBox. We have a competitor who also specifically targets runners, but I think we’re at least three times their size. We’re profitable, and we’re growing.
Have you raised any money? We’re self-funded. We’re not actively looking for investment, but we do get inquiries. If we found the right partner, I wouldn’t be opposed to working with them.
How do you make money? Primarily through our subscriptions.
What have you learned? That starting a business is freaking hard. I’ve learned that social media can be a really important tool for certain businesses. I’ve learned a lot about packaging and the U.S. Postal Service. Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned, though, is that you aren’t going to get anything done unless you take action. When I got my first order for a box on January 6th, 2013, I didn’t even have anything to put in a box or a way to send it. I had to scramble to find products. Sometimes you just need to get started.
What’s next? We’re redesigning the look of the StrideBox now. It’s pretty rugged, and we want it to be sexier. We’re also hiring. We’ll looking for a fulfillment manager, and a brand partnership manager.
Random facts to blow people’s minds: I think I have a pretty good one. I was the Oregon State University mascot, Benny the Beaver, from 1999 to 2002. It was really fun, and also sometimes hot. The worst days were when it would rain and you’d be carrying around 100 pounds of wet fur. That’s hard work.
(Yes. That actually is the best random fact so far. James sets the bar high for the next 47 startup founders. Also we put our investigatory journalism skillz to use and found this pic below. We also discovered that not only was James the mascot, but he actually won at mascotting. Our giant cartoon hat off to you James. Well done).
Next week in #50startups: How smart are your business waivers? Probably not smart enough. Meet Smartwaiver next week and learn about how this Bend company is improving the convenience and security of digital release of liability waivers.