Digital Marketing Redux   //   April 6, 2023

‘All my eggs in the Facebook basket’: True Classic CEO Ryan Bartlett on growing a DTC brand on paid social

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Men’s apparel brand True Classic was able to become a $250 million company — and it thanks Facebook for its success.

“I knew I was going to put all my eggs in the Facebook basket,” said co-founder and CEO Ryan Bartlett. Lucky for him, the company launched before the changes to iOS 14, and his thesis worked. The company says it’s profitable, has sold over $250 million worth of goods since its launch in 2019 and now has five stores open around the U.S.

Bartlett joined the Modern Retail Podcast this week and spoke about True Classic’s growth strategy — as well as what it takes to rely on social media in the current climate.

Bartlett admits that the performance marketing space has gotten much more difficult over the years, but he still believes Facebook is a great channel for growth. The company spends as much as $100,000 on Meta platforms each day, which represents around 70% of its total marketing budget.

“We have definitely diversified away from Facebook, because we realized that if anything ever goes wrong with Facebook, we can just tank the business,” Bartlett said. “So we’ve been very strategic about spending more on Google, spending more on non-branded search on Amazon, spending more on podcasts and OTT — but really testing into it. We really are sticklers on data and analytics and understanding attribution at the highest levels.”

Even though paid social is so important to True Classic’s business model, Bartlett also thinks the product is just as important. The company makes predominately casualwear, like crewneck t-shirts.

“I wanted to create something very narrow and a very specific SKU, which was just the t-shirt — just the crewneck t-shirt,” Bartlett said. “I wanted to make the best possible version of that I possibly could, I wanted to prove it out. And once I did, we eventually started rolling out into every single category that you see on the website now, which is activewear, denim, underwear, socks, absolutely everything.”

Now that True Classic has found a formula that’s worked, the focus is on growing it as big as possible. For example, last year the company launched internationally — “it was like 30% of the business overnight,” Bartlett said. “So that was a monster for us. And we it was literally just flicked the light switch on and go.” In the beginning, the company launched in dozens of countries including most of Europe and Australia — but still shipped from the U.S. Now, True Classic is trying to tweak its international strategy even more by seeking out fulfillment centers overseas and producing content in native languages. Additionally, the brand is also expanding into womenswear.

For now, expanding beyond the U.S. and into the women’s category are what’s taking up a lot of Bartlett’s time. “Between those two initiatives, I really got my hands full,” he said.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Why Bartlett chose to launch an apparel brand
“I felt like I have a really good grasp on what the market wants. And the more research I did, the more it just really set with me that this was the right thing. So, I definitely took a lot of time to think about it before I launched into shirts. I was throwing around all sorts of ideas — I wanted to do a matcha brand, I wanted to do a lab diamond brand, I wanted to do like 10 different things. But I just kept coming back to this because it just felt like my frustrations have to be shared with a lot of people.”

‘I knew that I was going to put all my eggs in the Facebook basket’
“I knew that I was going to put all my eggs in the Facebook basket, so to speak. I knew because SEO was going to take forever. Like, I’m not scaling this company to $100 million in two years on SEO, it’s just impossible. SEO would like a lifetime of work to like really make a dent. This was pre-iOS 14. So, I was lucky enough to start this back then, which was amazing — I didn’t have to do nearly as much work on targeting and creative because Facebook was just perfectly finding the right customer every time. So I was lucky in that regard. And I also just knew how to run paid media. So I was able to really just scale this thing only on Facebook. For the longest time, I didn’t spend $1 on Google or TikTok or any of those other machines. For a long time, I just really built it on Facebook. Even now, it’s still by far our largest spend daily — I would say like 70% of our daily spend still goes to Facebook and Instagram because it just works so well.”

A focus on staying lean
“What I knew coming into this business was that I wasn’t going to be one of those companies that overhires. I think that’s been a large part of our success — even though we did $250 million in over three years, we’re still only 50 people. A lot of the companies I talked to that are doing over $100 million a year have like 700-800 people working there. Their OpEx is through the roof, which means if they don’t have a really good margin, there’s just no way they’re making money. So I’m always the guy who’s kind of cheap when it comes to doing deals with vendors. I’m always trying to get them down to the absolute rock bottom, for the sake of the company. Because that technology adds up quick on the balance sheet.”