Courtesy of FIGS

'We've Branded an Unbranded Industry': FIGS Co-CEOs Trina Spear and Heather Hasson on Their Epic IPO

Sarah Favot

Favot is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She previously was an investigative and data reporter at national education news site The 74 and local news site LA School Report. She's also worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was a Livingston Award finalist in 2011 and holds a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and BA from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

Fashionable and comfortable medical scrub maker FIGS made history on multiple fronts when it made its Wall Street debut last month.

The Santa Monica company was likely the first led by two female CEOs and co-founders to go public; it was the first healthcare apparel company to go public, and it was the first company to make its IPO available on Robinhood.


And its performance beat expectations. Shares of FIGS jumped 36% to close at $30.02 after they priced at $22 each. They have since risen to $43.37 as of Thursday.

Co-CEOs and co-founders Trina Spear and Heather Hasson sat down with dot.LA to talk about how they went from selling their scrub sets out of their car in front of hospitals during shift changes to going public last month.

They discussed how the direct-to-consumer apparel company for health professionals surprised investors and how they wanted to make the IPO accessible to healthcare workers.

Courtesy of FIGS

Heather, you got the idea for FIGS after you had coffee with a friend who was a nurse practitioner and were horrified when you realized she was working 16-hour days wearing uncomfortable, unflattering scrubs. Scrubs seem like a big jump from the upscale handbag company you were running at the time. Why was it about that moment that made you think this could become a successful business?

Heather Hasson: Any entrepreneur doesn't think, 'Oh my God, this is gonna be a successful company,' you know. I think my lens was, what problems can I solve and how do I make this world better and how do I make this world a place where I want to live in.

Healthcare professionals are the most incredible people in the world and they don't have gear, they don't have clothing that can help them perform better. And also, direct-to-consumer, they should be able to order at 2, 3 o'clock in the morning when they need to. They need their uniform to go to work.

In the beginning, Trina and I, we were selling out of my car in front of hospitals during the shift change. At that moment, you realize people want FIGS, they want your stuff.

I really do, I wake up every single day thinking about healthcare professionals and how do we support them, how do we empower them, how do we celebrate them.

Where does the name FIGS come from?

HH: It's a very simple answer. It's my favorite fruit.

How big is your team? Why did you choose L.A. as your HQ?

Trina Spear: We have about 250 people. And why did we choose L.A.? Heather is from here, born and raised.

What was that moment like for you as the first female CEOs and first female co-founders company to go public?

TS: We really felt like the IPO, this milestone, wasn't so much about us. It was really about the community. Coming out of this pandemic and having this be almost a symbol of everything that our healthcare professionals went through. We had 12 healthcare professionals on the podium with us to ring the bell. We had 60 of our healthcare professionals at our IPO. This was a really amazing moment for this community that's been through so much and now it's kind of coming out of it and we really feel like we're the brand to support them and show up for them every single day.

You partnered with Robinhood which allowed retail investors to buy stock before the debut on the open market. Why?

TS: I think for us, back to our broader mission of supporting healthcare professionals, we really did want to give them an opportunity to invest pre-IPO and Robinhood enabled us to do that. Normally, being able to invest pre-IPO is very much a Wall Street insider-type of thing. By partnering with Robinhood, we were able to give access to FIGS stock, having equity in this company, to our most important people, the people we serve -- our healthcare professionals, so that's why we did it.

What will you be doing with their windfall? Could we expect to see them acquire other companies? Will you be growing your footprint in L.A. or elsewhere?

TS: The real investment that we're looking to make is in product. And the second area is in our community, our community is the brand, the brand is our community and so how do we continue to give to this community that's so deserving of something better. And then data and technology is a huge area for us. We have a really robust set of data and technology capability. And what that enables us to do is, at the heart of it, understand our customers better. The more data we have, the more we understand, the more we can serve and support. How do we deepen our connection with this community? Data and scalable data enables us to do that.

Some investors have eschewed direct-to-consumer brands in recent years, I'm thinking of the mattress startup Casper's "lackluster" IPO performance. FIGS on the other hand, stock surged 36% in its debut. Why should people invest in your company?

TS: There's a big difference between us and really every other company and the big difference is that we've been able to balance both growth and sustainable profitability. If you look at even last year, we grew 140% year-over-year and $263 million in net revenue. No one thought that was possible. Every investor we met, no one thought a direct-to-consumer company that has 98% of their sales online direct-to-consumer could grow 140% to $263 million, we did $318 million in revenue in the last 12 months as of the first quarter. Nobody thought that was possible.

Why have you been able to do this?

TS: All these companies are so focused on digital marketing and they put all the money into Facebook and all the money into Google and they hope to make a return on that investment. And as they scale, their customer acquisition cost goes up.

What we've proven is that as we scale, we've been able to decrease our customer acquisition cost by 61% over the last two years because we never were reliant on Facebook and Google digital marketing. We actually built the brand the right way. The way in which a Nike or a Lululemon or Adidas built their brand, with actual people loving the product and loving the brand, not based on how I figured out the algorithm on Facebook. This is a huge, huge shift from how people thought that digitally native direct-to-consumer companies should grow. Everyone thought 'how do you crack the code on Facebook's algorithm'. No, actually you build a community around a profession, you build relationships with real people, you build a brand people love, you build a product people come back over and over and over again to buy. That's the hard way to build a company and that's what we've done.

Courtesy of FIGS

It seems like this is a really niche market, do you have any plans to appeal to a wider customer base? Expand globally and into other uniform-wearing sectors?

TS: We actually don't view it as a niche market. I think many people do because they don't understand how many healthcare professionals there are, but this is a $12 billion industry in the United States. It's $79 billion globally and healthcare jobs are the fastest growing job segment in the country. We have a 2% market share in the U.S.

We think about our company as a lifestyle brand for the healthcare professional, so it's not just a top and a pant, it's also our under scrubs, our fleeces, our vests. We're outfitting healthcare professionals to work — at work, from work, head to toe, on shift and off shift. So it's all of these other things that we're doing and creating for our healthcare community and so we feel like we have a lot of runway, even just within the category that we're in.

At some point, we do feel like the uniform industry overall is broken and if there's any company that's going to disrupt that like we disrupted this industry bringing comfort and design and technical fabrication and functionality to the uniform industry overall, it would be FIGS, but you know, that is not in the near future.

Why should a medical professional buy FIGS? The price point is higher than other more traditional scrubs. On Amazon you can find a scrub top and scrub pants for $20 each, while your scrubs start at $38 for a top and $40 for pants. For lower-wage medical professionals like nursing assistants or medical students, this price point may be out of reach. Also, some might say that since you're going to be working in them every day and all the possible stains that may get on your scrubs, it's not worth it to buy high-end scrubs.

TS: If you look at our customer base, our customers make less than the average healthcare professional; 12% of our customers are students. Two-thirds of our customers make less than $100,000 a year and one-third, make less than $50,000 a year, within that two-thirds. So as much as we are a premium product, we are only about 15%-ish higher than the average scrub set. It's really important to us to serve all healthcare professionals and so really having an affordable, accessible product is one of core tenants here at FIGS that's really, really important.

You mentioned in your prospectus that it's a highly competitive market. How do you differentiate yourselves?

TS: The way in which the industry worked, is you had all these companies that were essentially licenses of other companies that sold to the retailer, and then the retailer sold to the end customer. But 85% of healthcare professionals buy their own uniforms.

We've branded an unbranded industry. And so what these companies really struggled with is that they didn't have that direct relationship [with the consumer]. They don't even know the names of their customer. The retailer is selling to the customer. That fundamental industry was broken, that structure was broken, that needed to be fixed and so that's what we've done.

We de-commoditized the commodity products, we went direct to consumer and then we built this community around this profession.

In 2020, FIGS had operating income of $57.9 million after a net operating loss of $300,000 in 2019. The 2020 active customer tally was 1.3 million, up from 600,000 in 2019. What was it about 2020 that made for such growth and profitability?

TS: This was happening prior to 2020. Essentially, we were profitable as of some point in 2019. But this is a trajectory that was long before COVID. We've grown the company every year by 100% year-over-year, so in terms of that following through to the bottom line, that was the trajectory we were on. It wasn't a COVID dynamic, if you will.

What do you keep in mind when you're designing products? Is it all about fashionability?

HH: it has to be really comfortable because you're in your scrubs for 16 hours sometimes 32 hours, so that is literally the design lens -- technical comfort. And we do not do anything that's not technical and super comfortable at the same time.

They're commuting to work, so they need a fleece, even a jacket over that and when they go to work, we're the first company to make jackets for the inside. We specifically make jackets for between 62 and 65 degrees. It's about the entire layering system. It's about what the healthcare professional wears 365, on the night shift, to and from work and when they wake up in the morning. That's never really been thought about and it should be because that's what healthcare professionals need.

Correction: An earlier this version of the story incorrectly referred to customer acquisition cost as cap. It was also updated to clarify the timeline in which FIGS raised $318M in revenue.

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Can You Drink an NFT? Why These LA Beverage Brands Are Experimenting With the Blockchain

Perrin Davidson
Perrin Davidson is the publisher of⁣ LAeats, an L.A.-based food community covering the food industry, food entertainment and food tech.
Image courtesy of Bored Breakfast Club

While you can’t drink an NFT, that isn’t stopping some beverage startups from looking to capitalize on the blockchain-enabled craze.

Non-fungible tokens have gained traction in the art world, where artists and creators are using the digital assets to create closer connections with fans and collectors.

The idea of building a creative community around a product is not unfamiliar to beverage brands. After all, generations of beverage aficionados gave us the concept of the bar, the tea house and the coffee joint.

As brands increasingly take to the digital world to increase their exposure, many beverage companies are now experimenting with NFT technology to build interest around their products. Budweiser, for instance, recently signed a deal to mint collectible tokens, as have Bacardi, Fountain Hard Seltzer and the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Three new L.A.-based beverage brands–Bored Breakfast Club, Yerb and Leisure Project–are also using the blockchain to build their companies and engage with customers in different ways. Each is using NFTs to kickstart their direct-to-consumer businesses and build interest in their brands.

The goal is to use the transparency and equity inherent in blockchain technology to attract early adopters—giving them an opportunity to test ideas and products before they’re finalized—and encourage them to invest in a community built around their drinks.

Time will tell if each brand can deliver on that promise.

Bored Breakfast Club Bored Breakfast Club's NFT tokens feature the Bored Ape characters and serve as a subscription membership.

Bored Breakfast Club

One L.A.-based effort, Bored Breakfast Club, has looked to leverage the popularity of Bored Ape collectible NFTs to help jump start a new coffee subscription service.

Frogtown-based marketing agency Kley is leading the effort to use Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) and Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) intellectual property to build direct-to-consumer coffee subscription memberships that are sold as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. The tokens themselves feature a breakfast scene that include BAYC and MAYC characters, and each functions as a coffee subscription membership.

BAYC and MAYC are considered two of the most popular and expensive NFT collections, according to OpenSea, a secondary NFT marketplace that also tracks their value. BYAC NFTs are valued at approximately 74.69 ETH ($244,041) on the platform.

Kley co-founder Brad Klemmer said the idea was to parlay the success of the Bored Apes brand into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Owners of the NFTs get four free coffee shipments and the possibility of more, if the project is a success.

Klemmer said the idea is to build a regular clientele for his coffee brand by shipping it directly to consumers, rather than relying on them to go to a coffee shop or grocery store. “You need a brand and community that puts their product on [consumers’] doorstep on a weekly basis,” he said.

Bored Breakfast Club launched the project on Jan. 10, offering 5,000 NFTs for .08 ETH (approx. $250) each, and promising token holders they would receive a 12-ounce bag of a different variety of coffee for each of four NFT sales thresholds the company surpassed. The NFTs have since sold out, meaning that the project will ship four bags of coffee to each token holder by the end of the month. The company has also created a “community coffee wallet” that could entitle token holders to still more coffee.

Bored Breakfast Club A graphic explains Bored Breakfast Club's "wallet" concept.

That’s because the “wallet“ collects funds from a 5% royalty on its NFTs that are bought and sold on the secondary market. Once it collects enough funds, the company will send additional blends to its 5,000 token holders. (Klemmer said they’re waiting to get data from their initial shipments to determine how much it will cost to ship additional bags). That communal “wallet“ will also pay to produce extra bags of coffee and Bored Breakfast Club merchandise to sell to non-NFT holders.

Klemmer said he sees the NFT offerings as a “fun way to buy coffee.” Also, there were “similarities around NFT communities engaging with each other and what the DTC subscription model is trying to be.”

Bored Breakfast Club works with Yes Plz Coffee, which sources, roasts, packages and delivers the coffee to NFT holders.

Yerb yerba mate drink

Yerb

Yerb was born out of entrepreneur Brett Fink's habit of drinking yerba mate with friends, many of them creatives who were looking for a coffee alternative. The traditional South American drink is said to provide a calmer caffeine-imbibing experience than coffee.

Like Bored Breakfast Club, Fink is hoping to use NFTs to drum up interest in his business early on. But instead of relying on the popularity of a particular NFT brand, Fink sees an opportunity to use the blockchain to heighten awareness of his own brand and, hopefully, develop buy-in for its first product.

Fink, who has past experience building and growing consumer-packaged good (CPG) brands, including cannabis brands, thinks NFTs can help build a creative community around a product.

“If you believe what we believe, and want to create a product for the creative process, you can benefit from it, as there is a massive untapped opportunity in NFT and CPG projects,” Fink said. “You need to get people to believe what you believe, then have them be involved and take ownership of that product.”

Yerb’s first yerba mate drink will be bottled in 12-ounce cans but sold through NFTs that cost 0.039 ETH (approx. $77 USD). The company started offering the tokens in February of last year; each entitles the holder to six cans of Yerb’s first release, as well as an additional six-pack of cans every year that they hold the NFT. Yerb is hoping that the offer will help it identify early adopters who will buy-in to the brand as repeat customers.

Non-NFT holders will be able to purchase the drinks once token holders receive the first shipment. Yerb is targeting April 2022 for that release after hitting supply chain issues last year.

Leisure Project

Leisure Project

Venice-based Leisure Project is taking a similar approach to Yerb by targeting creatives with an emphasis on community development.

The startup, which bills itself as “the world’s first co-created beverage brand,” hopes to market a kind of natural Gatorade for entrepreneurs, creators and innovators.

Leisure Project was started by former NCAA Division I athletes and brothers Steve Michaelsen, who works at Nike LA, and Alex Michaelsen, who works at TikTok marketing agency GO Ventures in Beverly Hills. The brothers, who have been bootstrapping the project themselves, have spent almost two years creating the brand’s first three flavors.

In December, the Michaelsens announced plans to experiment with minting NFTs that would provide token holders with the first run of their beverages, cheaper pricing on additional flavors and the opportunity to pitch new products. Leisure Project has been sampling its drinks at local NFT events to drum up publicity.

Down the line, the company hopes to use the blockchain to give token holders access to a yet-to-be-defined “creator database” of potential partners and grants.

Leisure Project is in its early stages, but its founders hope establishing buy-in through NFTs and social platforms like Discord will help build an authentic community for their brand, and give them a potentially vital advantage over more-established competitors. “Big brands can’t go backwards and do something community-orientated after the fact,” Steve Michaelson said.

Office Hours: JibJab CEO Paul Hanges on Creating Viral Joy

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 75 companies and is incubating several more.

Image courtesy of JibJab

Even if people don't know the brand by name, JibJab CEO Paul Hanges is happy to see the company's greeting cards resonate and its mission to make people laugh continue to thrive.

On this episode of Office Hours, Hanges talks about JibJab, a pioneer of internet comedy that has evolved into a subscription platform for exchanging ecards, as well as a studio that produces video shorts and commercials for clients including Sony, Nickelodeon, PBS Kids, NBC in Disney. JibJab was acquired by Catapult Capital in 2019.

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Santa Monica EV Infrastructure Firm InCharge Sold to Swiss Tech Giant ABB

Pat Maio
Pat Maio has held various reporting and editorial management positions over the past 25 years, having specialized in business and government reporting. He has held reporting jobs with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Orange County Register, Dow Jones News and other newspapers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of InCharge Energy

Santa Monica-based fleet electrification company InCharge Energy has sold a majority stake in its business to Swiss robotics giant ABB, the companies announced Thursday.

The deal gives ABB a 60% controlling interest in InCharge, which builds electric vehicle charging systems for commercial fleet operators including ride-share operators, school districts and municipalities. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. The Swiss firm initially acquired a 10% stake in the startup through its Series A funding round in 2020, which ABB led alongside Macquarie Capital.

While InCharge will be folded into ABB’s e-mobility division, it will maintain its management team, including co-founders Cameron Funk and Terry O’Day, as well as its “tech neutrality,” the company said in a press release.

Founded in 2018, InCharge manages fleet electrification projects for commercial customers including truck rental company Ryder, truck and bus manufacturer Navistar and GM BrightDrop, which is developing electric-powered vans for commercial delivery firms. BrightDrop is part of GM’s larger initiative to have an all-electric lineup of vehicles by 2035; its first customer is FedEx, which placed an initial order for 500 EV600 vehicles.

InCharge currently employs around 50 people. As part of its plans to expand nationally, the Santa Monica startup has a four-year goal to hire hundreds of field technicians to support and service its charging systems across the country.

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