Growth Hacking & A Whole Lot Of Hustle
My name is Taylor Offer. I’m 26 years old. I was born in Los Angeles, California and I’d like to say I’m an entrepreneur for a living. I started with selling socks out of my backpack in college, transitioned into e-commerce, transitioned into more social media stuff, and now I also have a digital marketing agency.
I’ve done a lot of different ventures. I’ve done some investing and advising, and kind of touched several different types of companies. So I like to call myself kind of an all-around entrepreneur.
As a kid I was always fascinated by prices. I was just fascinated when I’d go to two restaurants and one would offer a burger for $3 and another would offer a burger for $6. Or why the same bottle of Dasani water at the grocery store is 0.20 cents, but at the sports game it was $5. I just couldn’t wrap my head around that concept of pricing. I was always obsessively just looking at what things cost and trying to understand why they were that way. The variation of prices in even the same products was so interesting to me. I remember I would ask my mom, “ Why do people drink bottled water? You have free water! Why do people pay for it?” It was so fascinating to me.
I was never really passionate about school. First, I went to Hamilton High School and I was doing horribly, like sub 2.0 GPA freshman year - D’s and F’s in every class. I was playing a lot of sports and I just wasn’t really caring about school. So I wasn’t that good at school. I remember freshman year thinking to myself, “You’re not going to college at all. Damn.” I knew I was smart, but I just don’t feel like I fit within the system. From an early age, I felt like I had this chip on my shoulder where I had to prove I was smart because I didn’t get the best grades or go to the best university, but I knew I was smart.
Then I transferred to Beverly Hills High School and did a lot of the same. By sophomore year I think I had a 2.4, which definitely wasn’t good enough for college. And then junior year I enrolled in 2 or 3 AP classes. They told me I didn’t qualify for them, but I didn’t care I told them I could do it. I got a 4.4 GPA that year. I proved that I could do it, but my weighted GPA was still something like a 3.2.
I didn’t get into any of the colleges I wanted to get into. I ended up going to UMass, which is this big random state school in Massachusetts. I went in to study finance because I wanted to prove to all these people that I’m going to make a lot more. For some reason I always wanted to have a lot of money, not just to have a lot of money, but because I wanted to be able to do what I wanted in the world. I always thought money was a tool or a vehicle for that. I never wanted to go by Gucci or Rolex an all that stupid stuff. I cared about having the resources to be able to execute what I wanted in the world and money would enable that.
So I went in as a finance major and I was done messing around in high school - I wanted to crush it in college. Freshman year I got a 4.0 and got an investment banking internship, which is super hard to do. While I was there I noticed that all of the partners there were on their 3rd of 4th wives. None of them were happy. All of the analysts were pale and white. It’s not the lifestyle I wanted to live. I saw that these people made a lot of money, but there’s more to life than money. I didn’t want to live that way. So, I dropped out of business school.
I was always entrepreneurial. During my freshman year everyone was posting on Facebook groups. This was in 2015. Everyone would use Facebook groups to buy and sell tickets, textbooks, mini fridges, and all the things you saw around campus. It was very inefficient. No one was using Craigslist on college campus, so thats what I wanted to create.
I popped up a site called Market Loco, and it was your Craigslist for colleges. Within a couple of months we had like half a million page views and everyone’s buying and selling college related items here. We eventually never really figured out how to monetize and we tried scaling it to other colleges, but we failed. Funny enough, my friends were all making fun of me for it. It’s kind of like the monkey in the barrel that nobody wants to see you succeed. Everyone’s kind of wishing they were doing that, but don't want to so they try to pull you down. I had this one friend kept posting the Dean’s cellphone number on a Market Loco for an account selling sex toys. So, the Dean kept getting these calls about sex toys and I got in trouble for that. It kind of sucked how people, including my “friends”, weren’t supportive.
Sophomore year I started another company. I joined a fraternity and they made us buy T-shirts for every event - rush T-shirts, mixers etc. We were buying 5 or 6 T-shirts per semester that were $15 each. So as a pledge, I went to my fraternity and told them I think I can make these for cheaper and asked if I could make them. I ended up finding someone who could make them for $5 and I sold them to the fraternity for $14. I was making $9 /shirt on 100 shirts - $900 profit with just one deal. I was like, “Woah… this is really cool!” So I scaled it around campus. I started making the shirts for all of the parties and sororities.
I was undercutting the prices that everyone was used to. This is what taught me about lean businesses. I had no employees or overhead so I could undercut the whole market because I had no costs. I scaled it all around UMass and it was kind of a blessing in disguise. I felt like I was the most entrepreneurial person there - the big fish in a small pond. So I thought to myself, “I can do this in all colleges.”
I flew back to LA, got my car, drove from LA back to UMass and stopped at Arizona, Arizona State, Texas, Alabama, Auburn and other schools along the way. I went door to door knocking on every fraternity and sorority house saying, “How much are you making your shirts for. I can make them cheaper.” By the end of junior year I was making around $25,000 / semester. I thought I was killing it. In college, that’s a lot of cash.
I’ve always been outgoing and pretty verbal about my success, so I was known as this entrepreneur guy. Senior year I enrolled in an entrepreneurship class. I went into it overly cocky thinking about my $25,000 / semester and that I know all about entrepreneurship. That’s where I met this kid named Parker. We started talking after class and all these kids were kind of huddling around me asking, “How’d you make $25,000. This is crazy. Can I work for you? Can you teach me?”
Then Parker comes up and say’s, ‘Oh, that’s cool you do custom shirts. I do custom stuff too. I do custom lacrosse uniforms.” I responded with something like, “That’s cool man” and kind of brushed him off. Finally, he says “I’ve done over $1 milllion in sales.” This was a senior in college that had done over $1 million in sales. I remember so distinctly all the kids immediately changing their body languages from listening to me to completely focused on him. Now they all wanted him to teach them and didn’t care what I had to say anymore.
Parker and I joke about that to this day. He’s been my best friend and business partner for the past 5 years - ever since that interaction. We hit it off that day. I didn’t know that people like that existed at UMass. He started explaining to me that everybody with the custom lacrosse uniforms has these crazy jerseys and shorts, and they keep asking about these crazy socks to match. It was before. People just wore those white nike socks for 0.90 cents more or less. No one bought bright, fun crazy socks.
Parker and I kind of caught this sock trend. We both were in the custom business making clothing. We also had some bad experiences with inventory. For example, I’ve had a $5,000 order where I would make shirts for a school. I’d make it, I’d produce it and I’d pay the cost of inventory which was a couple thousand dollars. Once it was delivered, I got a call complaining about the shirts being maroon and not burgandy. I ended up having to eat the cost of inventory, and the inventory was worth zero.
So, we wanted to build a brand around just selling socks. At the time Parker had this heat press, which did something that's called sublimation heat transfer. It essentially allows you to put designs on garments. One night, we went to T.J. Max and buy all the white Nike socks we can. We spend all night googling random designs and patterns on the internet and print all of these socks.
The next day Parker dropped me off on campus and I had 200 hundred pairs of socks. By the time Parker went to go find parking and came back I had $300 cash in my hands. I had the biggest smile on my face and said, “I just sold 30 pairs of socks at $10 a pair.” He was shocked. That day we sold 200 pairs and walked away with $2,000 cash.
We knew that if we could sell $10 socks to college kids who have no money and are on their way to the dining hall we were on to something. That’s how we started Feat Socks. I knew it was a good business because those same friends that were setting me up with the dean were hitting me up to buy socks. That year we sold 20,000 pairs out of our back packs just hustling.
So senior year we sold 20,000 pairs of socks. We were pretty hyped on the fact that we had a couple hundred thousand dollars in sales. We thought we had a real business and all we knew was that if you have a business you have to raise money. Now that I’ve learned a lot more I know that's just not the case. There’s companies that should be bootstrapping and shouldn’t raise money and there’s companies that should be raising money. An apparel brand like we were building actually shouldn't probably raise money. That being said, at the time we didn’t know any better. With thought that raising money is just what you do.
So at the time our initial plan was to raise $50,000 at a $100,000 valuation. We wanted ten $5,000 checks from 10 different investors. At the time we thought that would be so much money, not really thinking about the fact that having 10 investors would be a pain to deal with and the $5,000 checks is really small. So we started calling people seeing if we could get $5,000 checks. I called my parents, their friends and some other people. Then we met with this UMass alumni, Vinny Daboul, and he told us we had to raise real money. Introduced us to his friend that had just sold a business.
It was me, Parker and our 3rd partner at the time. I remember our 3rd partner said, “We should raise $250,000 at a multi-million dollar valuation.” Parker and I looked at him both thinking he’s absolutely crazy. We end up meeting with this potential angel investor. I remember it so well. Parker did not think we could raise at over a $1 million valuation.
We go to lunch, and we’re meeting with this guy. Eventually, he goes, “I like you guys. I’m interested in investing. How much do you want to raise and at what valuation?” … [Crickets] ... Finally, Parker just says, “We want to raise $250,000 at a $2 million valuation.” The investor thinks for a moment and responds, “Okay. How about $250,000 at a $1.5 million valuation.” Inside I wanted to scream, “HOLY SHIT!” I couldn’t control my smile. We end up raising $250,000 at a $1.5 million valuation as our first round of funding. A year later we raised another $1 million at a $10 million valuation.
With angel investing I’ve learned you can say whatever you want and you can be worth that. If you actually believe that and say it you can get it. I’ve had friends who have raised tens and hundreds of millions of dollars with businesses that are fundamentally crap. If you have that passion, the energy and that belief, you can go raise at whatever valuation you want. It’s one of those things you can’t really fake.
So we raised our $250,000 a couple days after senior year. We didn’t really know what would happen. At the time I had an awesome 6 figure job opportunity at LinkedIn right out of school. It was called the Business Development Program at LinkedIn, which is an awesome tech company and only 15 kids got into the program. It was mostly really smart Harvard, Yale and Stanford kids. I was the one kid from a non-private school.
I took the job and got to meet all of these amazing people, and I was still doing Feat. While I was working at LinkedIn full-time we grew our sales from around $200,000 in sales our first year to around $600,000 in sales. We started thinking about raising money again.
The way we raised our 2nd round of funding is even more funny than the first. Again, it was just something we thought you had to do. It was more of an ego thing maybe, or perhaps just a challenge. For some reason, we just wanted to raise $1 million. The business didn’t really need $1 million. We didn’t even know what we were going to do with the money.
So, when we were in college we had a Kickstarter. On that Kickstarter we raised $27,000. One of our sock patterns was inspired by a girl Parker met in class. Parker saw her doodling on a notebook and asked her if he could pay her $50 to put the pattern on our socks. She said yes, and we ended up making socks with her pattern. She ended up sharing our Kickstarter campaign on her Facebook and one of her relatives who’s an investor messages us asking if we’re looking to raise more money. At the time we didn’t want it. We thought we were so set because we just raised $27,000. So, that was that.
2 years later when we were thinking about raising the $1 million I dug up my email with that lady and we gave her a call. So, we called her and she didn’t really remember us, but she still offered to have us come meet her in Palo Alto. I was in Chicago at the time still working for LinkedIn and Parker was in Boston. We book flights to Palo Alto to go meet with her.
We didn’t really have any financials and we really have a solid business plan. All we knew was that we wanted to raise $1 million and before the meeting, one of our investors, David Folk told us, “Whatever you do, don’t raise less than $1 million at a $10 million valuation.” To me, I thought that was absolutely ludicrous. It was just me and Parker working part-time doing roughly $600,000 in sales. It was crazy.
So, we went into the meeting with the mindset that it had to be $1 million at a $10 million valuation, and we end up raising $1 million at a $10 million valuation. It just goes back to that mindset - whatever you believe your worth, you can get it. That’s how we got our second round of funding. I quit my job, Parker sells his other business, and we’re now 22-23 years old with $1 million working full-time on Feat.
This was around 2015 and I was hooked on influencer marketing. It’s hard to remember, but this was before influencers was really a word. Nobody seemed to know the value of people with reach on social media. We started contacting (direct messaging and emailing) everyone on Instagram with over 100,000 followers. We said something like, “Hey! Can we please, please please send you some free socks. If you like them, maybe we can do a deal together.”
One of the people that responds is Aly Raisman, who is a gymnast and at the time was prepping for the Olympics. She had 200,000 followers at the time. We made her own custom pair of socks and she posted about it. We sold $1,000 of product from that one post, which we were hyped about. Fast forward six months later, she goes to the Olympics and goes from 200,000 followers to 2.2 million followers within 1 month. Now when she posts about us we’re selling tens of thousands of dollars of product per post. It was crazy.
It’s now 2016, and we decided to focus our whole business around influencer marketing. We started researching all of these influencers. At the time there was an app called Vine that was blowing up. I started stalking all of these Vine influencers and I realized they all live in the same building in Hollywood. All of their videos had the same door knobs, the same finishes on their counters, the same backdrops, the same pool. I was like, “Hm.. maybe all these guys live here.”
I kept trying to contact them. Finally, this guy Curtis Lapore who was a big Viner responds, “Yea, you can send me some socks. Send them to 1600 Vine Street in Hollywood.” A couple of weeks later this other guy Marcus Johns responds, “Yea, you can send me some socks. Send them to 1600 Vine Street in Hollywood.” That’s when I knew I found it. I remember we were in Boston at the time and I told Parker I’m flying to L.A. to sneak into this building and see if these kids live here.
So I fly to LA and try to sneak into the building. Security doesn’t let me in, “Residents only”. The only two people I knew that lived there were Curtis and Lapore and Marcus Johns. So I said, “I’m going to hang out with my friend Curtis.” and the security guard says, “Okay let me call him.” As he was saying that, King Bach who is another big influencer was walking in and says, “Oh, you’re coming to see Curtis? He’s my boy. You’re good with me.” I WAS IN.
King Bach tells me which floor Curtis lives on and I just start looking around. I go to the gym and see Logan Paul, Jake Paul, and Cameron Dallas all working out together. I go to the pool and see Amanda Cerny and Lele Pons. It was influencer heaven, and at the time no brands were really working with them yet.
I called Parker and told him we’re packing up and moving to this apartment in Hollywood. The goal was to build relationships with these influencers and focus completely on influencer marketing. I think Parker’s response was something like, “Sounds crazy, but I get it. Let’s do it.” Within a week we moved from Boston to L.A. into this building.
We started hanging out with all of these influencers. First we became friends with them and then we talked about socks. We end up doing a deal with Logan Paul, who was one of the bigger ones at the time. With one post, Logan sold $500,000 of product, which paid for everything 10 times over and drove 1 million unique visitors to our site and brought us 20,000 new customers. It was huge. From there we started working with other influencers.
The economics of the deals were very simple: It was a backend profit split. So, instead of paying upfront, which most people want, We offered to pay influencers way more on the backend. For example, let’s say an influencer wanted $50,000 upfront and then something like 10% of sales. We showed them that we can make $500,000 and give them 50% of the profit instead. We also made the product so we had no inventory risk.
We did deals with Logan Paul, the ChainSmokers, Ali Raisman, Jimmy Tatro and all these huge influencers. The only difficult part is that the numbers were volatile. We would have some really good months where we’d do $700,000 in sales, and the next month a campaign would flop and we’d do $70,000 in sales. We needed to figure out a way to make the business less volatile.
I read this article about this guy, Jake Cassidy, who was this 26 year old that did $80 million in one year selling watches. I emailed him saying something like, “Look man, we’re trying to do what you do. Super interested in talking with you and we’re willing to offer you cash or equity in our company.” He was so cool about it. He wasn’t interested in any cash or equity and was just willing to help.
Jake taught us all about digital marketing. He went into our Facebook Ads manager and really showed us how digital marketing works. I like to describe it as learning how to shoot a basketball from Steph Curry. He’s a legend. He saw that we were driving millions of people to our site, but we were not optimizing our traffic. So we talked about optimizing traffic and controlling the customers through data captures, Facebook Ads, Email flows, and all of these things that really opened our eyes. This was a much more sustainable way of running an e-commerce business instead of using influencers, which was so up and down. That’s how we started scaling.
As we were scaling with socks, we realized they aren’t the perfect product for e-commerce. If you have an e-commerce company you want high perceived value because you want a high margin to acquire customers. You also want minimum SKUs so you’re not holding all of this inventory. With socks we had hundreds of SKUs, whereas with a watch you have only one SKU, so it’s a lot easier on the back end. You want your product to be lightweight and easy to ship. At the time we were selling these huge boxes of socks, which were expensive to ship. I can give you a deeper e-commerce thesis, but in short socks weren’t the right product.
That’s why we pivoted to hoodies, which are the perfect ecommerce product. We built a super lean team, even today it’s just myself and Parker. We use all contractors and 1099’s. We used to have 20 employees in-house. Now we have no one in-house and no office, which enables us to live the lifestyle we want to live. We can go anywhere we want to do anything.
Businesses need to make money. Business is a vehicle that serves you, not the other way around. It’s funny because I used to not really think this way. You have to build a business that serves you and creates the lifestyle that you want to live. You can morph the business into what you need it to be, but you have to make sure your business is working for you and you’re not working for the business.
It’s hard because as an entrepreneur you always think you have imposter syndrome and that you’re not the one with success. So it’s hard to identify what makes me successful. Personally, I don’t even think I’m successful, and I think every entrepreneur has imposter syndrome - that they’re the one person who’s faking it in the room.
Having a willingness to fail and fall flat on my face has been a big part of my success. Once you do that, you’ll realize it’s not that bad and you can get up again. People ask me how am I so risky. The answer is because I’ve been at rock bottom. Our business has been in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. We’ve had people steal from us. We’ve had really horrible things happen to us. We’re not scared of anything anymore. It happened and we got back up.
Even today, if we lose it all it’s okay. I’ll get back up because I’ve been through it before. I think once you have that mentality of knowing you can’t lose and you’ll get up if you fall, it will enable you to take risks and do whatever you want.
I think we’re really good at communicating to the customer. We are good at communicating why our product is awesome, and I think communicating is such an underrated skill. I see so many entrepreneurs with awesome products that don’t know how to communicate it correctly. If you can’t communicate to your customer and explain why something’s awesome, they won’t know that it is.
We’re all about being the softest hoodie ever. We talk about all the little things from the air pod pockets, the metal zips etc. If you don’t show why something’s awesome, people don’t know.
If you were to ask me this question at different points in my career, I would say something different. Early in my career I would have said it was when we raised $1 million at a $10 million valuation. Now, if someone tells me they’re proud about raising money I roll my eyes at them - raising money isn’t building a real business.
Early in my career when I made Forbes 30 under 30 I was so proud of that. Now I realize it’s just a B.S. list that you just ask your friends to get you on it. I used to care so much about it.
Same thing for Instagram. I remember when we got verified @TaylorParker and we had 100,000 followers. I thought it was the biggest deal ever. Now I rarely post on that account and don’t care much for Instagram.
The things I care about have changed so much over time. At this point, the thing I’m proud of is just being happy as a person. I’m prioritizing my own mental and personal health and that’s what makes me happy. I’m 26 years old, I have the financial resources to do whatever I want, I have time to do what I want, and I can travel wherever I want. I have unlimited credit card points because I’ve been advertising hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on Facebook. I travel for free anywhere in the world.
Life is awesome. I’m extremely happy right now. I think what I’m most proud of is being able to meet people and give off this awesome and positive energy because that’s how I feel. Whereas there was a point in my career where I didn’t have that and I was negative.
There’s a lot of challenges. One thing that really hurt was when we had about 6 people working for us and they’d been working with us for a while. One day, I’m looking at the bank statements for the last month. I looked at our Creative Director’s credit card statement and I saw $12,000 in charges in one month. I was sure something was wrong. I looked into it and I saw all of these random charges: $20 a The Bungalow, $20 a Circle Bar, $40 on Uber, Netflix, HBO, $200 at The Victorian in Santa Monica, etc. It just kept going. The charges were getting bigger and bigger throughout the month. By the end it was around $500 / night just going out every other night and partying.
I remember one charge was $74 at Taco Bell on a Saturday night at 1:37 AM. I remember it so well. HOW DO YOU SPEND $74 AT TACO BELL?! Do you know how hard that is? Parker and I looked at each other and just started laughing. We weren’t even mad, we were honestly pretty impressed by that.
Jokes aside, it was very very serious. At the time we had this super close knit team and he was not only a colleague, but also a friend who we trusted so much. We didn’t want to accuse him of anything, so we printed out the statements and asked him in a really positive, friendly way to walk us through the payments, so that we could explain the charges to an investor. At first he lied and said none of the charges were him. Then I told him I’d seen all of the Snapchats of him hanging out at all the places where the charges were taking place. Again, he just told us that his card must have been stolen, and we didn’t want to accuse him of anything.
Eventually, he came forward, apologized and said, “The charges were mine, but the employees were all in on it.” It was really hard to hear that. It was also around a time when we started working with a new 3rd party logistics company, and we had just shipped out a bunch of orders for Christmas. I think we did about $1 million in sales for the month of December, but 10 percent of the orders didn’t make it to the customers by Christmas. We had to refund $100,000 of orders because we ruined Christmas for those customers. That put us in debt because we were running in pretty slim margins. We had around $180,000 in debt.
All of this turned out to be the best blessing in disguise. We got rid of all of the employees since then (2 or 3 years ago). It enabled us to build a super lean business from scratch. That being said, these were people that I thought were some of my best friends. It’s really hard not to be close with your employees, especially in the startup stage and when you’re all pretty much the same age. It’s very hard to separate business and friendship. Everyone thinks they can, but everyone gets burned on it. It sucks because not only do you lose an employee, but you lose a friendship. It was a stab in the heart when that happened.
I’m making probably 10 times more money working 20 hour weeks than I was working 100 hour weeks. I think it’s just prioritizing things that matter. I used to prioritize work and hours. I realize now that it’s less about how many hours I work, and more so just about getting things done efficiently.
I used to take pride in working 100 hour weeks. Now I take pride in figuring out how to be super efficient with my time. I think people stress themselves out and procrastinate way too much. Get in, get your stuff done and get out. Figure out how to do things as efficiently and quickly as possible.
I split my time between LA and Park City for the past couple of months. I work every day for a couple of hours, and then I go skiing at noon without feeling bad about it because I’m getting the stuff I need to done. Get your stuff done and then go enjoy your life. That’s kind of my new mindset now.
Right now I’m actually more pumped and optimistic in life than I've ever been. I’m happy. I have an awesome girlfriend who I love and I have this great life. Business is going really well and so is life.
We have two businesses right now: Feat and Taylor Parker agency, which is our digital media agency we started to help people scale their online presence. Both businesses require less than a couple hours a day of work from us and each profit over 6 figures per month, which is pretty awesome. It’s a lot of money and not a lot of work because we’ve set this up really well.
It’s funny because we used to work 100 hour weeks and make no money. Now we’re working 15-20 hour weeks making so much more money. As I prioritize life and myself, business has got a lot better. I used to be in a super dark place especially coming out of college I just thought I had to listen to the loudest voice. I would listen to Gary Vee when I was 22 years old, and he just kept saying stuff like, “Hustle, work, grind. If you don’t work harder, someone else will.”
I remember there was a year where I literally worked 100 hours per week and didn’t do anything else besides work. I didn’t hang out with friends or family. I didn’t work out or take care of my body. I didn’t do anything I liked doing. I literally just worked, and I was miserable. One day I turned to Parker at 11 AM on a Tuesday and just said, “Hey, I need you to drop me off at the airport. I just need to go.” I was pushing so hard and it felt like the world was collapsing down on me. All I knew was that I had to get out.This was all after having hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, getting on Forbes 30 under 30, and I was still just so miserable as a person.
I booked a one way flight to Thailand. I didn’t take my phone or my computer and all I had was a backpack. I needed to disconnect from everything. I remember he asked me, “When are you coming back?” and I said, “I don’t know”. I told my mom the same thing. She was crying and told me I should go to therapy first, but I told her to just trust me and that I had to do this.
I remember being in Thailand and having an epiphany while watching these kids in the street who had nothing but rags on. They were just kicking a Coke can around with the biggest smiles on their faces - so happy. These kids had nothing besides an old coke. I remember asking myself, “Who’s winning in life? Me, who’s made it on Forbes 30 under 30 and is miserable, or them, who have nothing but a coke bottle, but are bursting with joy?” That moment was so impactful for me. It changed my whole life.
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You only get one life. Enjoy the ride and don’t just think about the destination. Don’t stress yourself out too much. There will be a point where you get to where you are trying to go, and you’ll realize that you should have enjoyed the journey more. I used to think I had to work in the dark to get to this light at the end of the tunnel. Now I’m just making sure the tunnel is lit the whole way. It’s all about focusing on your mental health and focusing on yourself. If you can enjoy the ride, even if you get to your destination or not, you’re going to be happy and you’re playing with house money.