In the wild and woody foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a small but diligent band of outlaws forge soaps, lotions, colognes, and other products so powerfully awesome they could change your LIFE.
Outlaw: A company for adventurous people, by adventurous people. We live like the products we make: we love campfire, whiskey, and ill-advised explosions... standing a little too close, but being sure to wear fire-proof clothes.
We know there’s a time for quiet conversations and a time for asking your friend to hold your beer because you’ve got a great idea. (note: it’s never a great idea… and that’s why there's YouTube)
Russ and I have built a business around what we find fun and interesting. It’s not for everyone… We get a lot of bruises in the regular course of life. Our hair is usually a mess. I probably have dirty fingernails.
But it’s our life, and it’s pretty darn fun.
We've put together a little interview to answer some of the questions we've heard over the years... hope you enjoy it!
How did you come up with the idea for Outlaw?
It started on our honeymoon. We stopped at a little farm store in Paso Robles, and I picked up two bars of soap that smelled nice and, most importantly, had illustrations of goats on them.
In those days, I was buying anything with goats on it (I go through phases... we ended up getting goats later, but that's another time for another story).
When our honeymoon ended (it was a weekend honeymoon, since we both had very demanding jobs and no time for frivolity like vacations), we returned to LA. Every morning, I smelled those soaps, and they took me back to that amazing honeymoon. I could close my eyes, and I was right back in that little cabin where we stayed in the woods.
Experiencing this amazing memory trigger, we started thinking about what other things we could smell that would remind us of our favorite things... and it was campfire, whiskey, Joshua Tree, coffee near a fire... but no one was making things that smelled like that (in any form), so we started talking about it with friends.
It seemed like a good idea, so we started teaching ourselves how to make soap, and, well, that was the beginning!
It has been said that you started Outlaw with less than $1000. Is that right?
Well, yes, and kinda. We started with about $17 and a grocery store trip for some ingredients. We did sell those bars, so it technically we started with $17.
It really started with that $17 and a trip to the grocery store.
After that first purchase, we bought more supplies and continued to sell those products... we worked really hard to be profitable, even from the beginning, using the proceeds from our sales to buy more inventory.
But since soap takes 30 days to cure, we did have to front that money, and Russ and I both had other jobs that supported our survival. I can't say it was an overnight rush of success... here we are, more than 7 years later, and it's still hard to make ends meet.
This year, we're working with some really amazing investors to help us get ahead of the hamster wheel of always being short of inventory... you might notice that a lot of our products are sold out, and that's just because of money.
The scents have been referred to as something Tyler Durden might make if he was in the Wild West... what inspired these crazy scents?
Right. I know, they're a bit offbeat.
We like what we like, and honestly, that's what drives all the scents. When we started the company in 2013, there weren't a lot of people doing crazy scents and whatnot. It was very new.
Neither of us are from "the industry," (the beauty or fragrance industry) and so we do things that make sense to us, even if they're not by the standard industry playbook.
This means we're more interested in finding scents that are interesting and amazing and compelling because they remind us of real, interesting, amazing, compelling things, not because they're composed of some formula for base notes and top notes.
Since we're not industry traditionalists, we use our own preference as the guide. We think "Hmm, it needs something a little... what's the word? More exciting. Gunpowder?" or "This smells a bit... tinny? I don't know. Try adding some dirt and campfire scent? That should bring it down a notch."
We've got a certain palette that we work with, and that palette composes most of our most popular scents.
It means that most of our scents kind of "match." Like, if you're a big fan of Blazing Saddles, our leather and gunpowder scent, you can easily wear that with Lust in the Dust, which smells like sagebrush and campfire, and those scents go very well together.
You and Russ started this business together. How is it to work with your husband?
Well, we started it when we were newlyweds. I can honestly say there were a lot of growing pains in those early days. But we ultimately realized...
Our differences are our strengths.
Just this morning, we were having a talk about some different approaches to our packaging, and I was pretty upset because deadlines were slipping and I wasn't sure what we could do, and Russ regrouped on the projects and we prioritized the most important projects with the most critical deadlines, and deprioritized the less important ones.
I like to do everything all at once, and he is very measured.
Without my relentless enthusiasm for pushing our business to be more, bigger, faster, stronger, we would stagnate.
Without his persistent dedication to discipline, planning, sanity, and structure, we would explode from chaos.
We both feel outstandingly fortunate to have a business and a life together.
What's it like being a woman entrepreneur?
It's hard to answer this question because I don't really have anything to compare it to. I know lots of men who are entrepreneurs, and it's hard for them too.
As I've often said...
"We didn't pick this job because it was easy. So if I wanted an easy job, there are a lot of other things we could do."
But, you know, especially as we're talking to investors, and, just statistically speaking, women entrepreneurs get about 2% of the total venture funds invested in companies. There's just a lot wrapped up in there...
In terms of the day-to-day of leading our company, I've never really felt like my gender has played much of a role in the decisions we make. We have a lot of strong, focused, amazing diverse people on our team, and I feel like that is part of our strength. When I see investors and magazines and bloggers focused on one type of person (generally the Type A white guy), I think they're missing out on some cool stories and perspectives.
Our company tends to appeal to men more than women, and that was not really intentional, but it's interesting. I've never felt that scent is a gendered thing.
Was there one thing that almost derailed the company? Was there a "bet the company" moment?
There were many such moments... but I think that any resilient company can't be brought down by any singular decision. (it takes a little pressure off)
But we did have a pretty scary time last year.
I mentioned that we've always been short of money, trying to keep up with demand and never quite having enough products.
But last year, we were in the absolute DEAD HEAT of high production season for Christmas, and at the time, we lived in Grass Valley, California. PG&E was turning off the power every time there were strong winds to prevent wildfires, but this meant our production was severely impacted.
It looked like we definitely weren't going to meet our Christmas demand.
One weekend, a fire broke out pretty close to our home, and Russ and I thought, "Heck, let's just go to Reno for the weekend. Why are we sitting here in the dark while a fire comes close to our house?"
So we went to Reno for the weekend. We stayed at a nice (dog-friendly) hotel and ordered pizza and stared out the window.
It was a nice weekend, and on Sunday morning, I was standing at the window and I said, "I dunno... should we move to Reno?"
We both laughed, because Reno, but it started snowing, and it was really magical. Russ came over and we stood at the full-length window and just realized... this was the sign, and we had to move to Reno if we wanted the company to grow.
Over the following several months in Grass Valley, we kept losing power, and we kept having production issues, and we found a place to live in Reno, and then we signed the lease on a big warehouse space in Sparks. It was HUGE and EXPENSIVE, and required a FIVE YEAR COMMITMENT (much more than anything we had committed to before) but we knew we had to commit to something bigger, or the power outages and small town of Grass Valley were going to really harm our business.
It was (and is) terrifying, but we're playing it day by day.
We have been SO amazed and delighted at the people we've found in Reno -- our production and fulfillment team are amazing -- and our customer service team now works remotely.
What has been the most surprising thing about Outlaw?
When we started Outlaw Soaps, we didn't know what we were doing. I mean, at the time, it felt like we did... but about 6 months in, I realized that we had ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE what we were doing.
I hired mentors, many of whom I am still friends with today, but the biggest guidance and support has come from strangers... our customers and Outlaw gang.
If I'm having a really horrible day, I go read the customer comments on our posts, or read our product reviews. The enthusiasm and energy of our customers... I mean, no one would argue that it's an easy time to be a human being... but we really have a connection that I believe is rare in this time. I've read notes from people who were right back in their dad's lap because of the scent of The Gambler, and we've received artwork of our logo on antique cigar boxes (and I owe you a note of thanks... I haven't forgotten!).
In a time of division, our customers remind me that we're all people. And most of us are good people.
For a bunch of good stinkin' outlaws, we sure have a very fine gang.
And I had no idea. I really didn't. I didn't know that customers would become regular names we saw over and over again, personalities we got to know, and friendships we'd forge. Outlaw attracts some incredible people, and on dark days, there's nothing like being surrounded by really truly amazing folks.
Thanks for reading about our company! We're so happy to be of service to our incredible customers.