ARTICLE / THE MAKING OF... SERIES
The making of...
Ok, let’s set the scene. You’re at a music festival, enjoying the music and having fun with friends… yet at the back of your mind is the nagging question, ‘Why can’t someone make a decent, good-looking gumboot’? Fast forward a couple of years and you find yourself setting out to make one of the finest gumboots around. Meet this week’s guest, Dani Pearce, Founder & CEO of Merry People.
The making of... Series
Welcome to The making of… To start, can you give us a brief background into who you are and where you’ve come from?
My name is Danielle Pearce and I am the Founder and CEO of Merry People - a gumboot brand!
I grew up on a farm in Leongatha (South Gippsland) before moving to the city for work and study. I studied for an Arts Degree at Monash University as an undergraduate, majoring in Journalism & Communications. Upon graduating I was working at ANZ in various roles around change management - which was an amazing experience (and very formative of the leader I am now.) ANZ also supported me through post-graduate study in Project Management & Banking & Finance for one of the country’s largest banks as a Business Implementation Manager. However, I was seeking more purpose, creativity and happiness from my work.
Dani Pearce, Founder & CEO of Merry People
We completely get it. One of the main reasons most people change their careers is that they’re seeking more purpose for their lives. With that in mind, how did you come up with the idea for Merry People?
The first time I thought of the ‘gumboot idea’ was in my early-20s (attending music festivals). I was looking for a pair of boots for a festival but what I found were either cheap PVC boots that were not comfortable with patterns that seemed more appropriate for children or very expensive, more regional/farm-looking gumboots that did not seem appropriate for me as someone living in the city.
I remember saying to myself, ‘I hope someone one day creates a really great pair of gumboots that fills this gap’ ... and left that thought! Then in my late-20’s (working at ANZ), I was again searching for a quality city-appropriate pair of gumboots for my daily commutes. Melbourne is known as having ‘four seasons in one day’ so I felt like I needed more weather-appropriate footwear. Again unable to find anything I loved, my mind drifted back to ‘Festival Dani’ and thought, ‘Why can't that person who starts a gumboot business be me’!
It would be safe to say that pretty much everyone we know has attended at least one music festival in their life, yet most don’t then come away thinking ‘I’ll go create some gumboots’. Knowing what you wanted to do, what research did you do to arrive at what you've got now and how did you test your product-market fit?
As a customer, I intuitively thought there was a gap, but carried out a SWOT analysis to further support my idea. I initially just showed my friends and family my samples. I also got feedback from some retailers where I shopped - I asked them if they liked them. Ultimately the biggest test was to make an order and sell at farmer's markets, which I did almost every weekend for 12 months. Learning what area/markets did well, learning about who was buying my product and why, plus hearing customer feedback (good and bad!), and selling at the markets over time gave me more confidence in myself, the product and the brand (It was a little daunting at the start).
Gumboots aren’t the easiest thing to create. How were your first runs? What were the first iterations of your product like?
The original Merry People boot was a very simplistic version of the current range we have now. It was called the Ivy Boot, a classic above-ankle gumboot shape with a wider gusset and low heel in a block colour. However, the feedback I often got was that customers were wanting a boot that was more ‘sturdy’ and could be worn doing more functional things (like gardening etc.) So I needed to improve the functional elements around quality and warmth etc.
You mentioned leaving your full-time job at ANZ… so how did you go about funding everything? We imagine you’d have this side of things covered?
Out of my own savings! And then as the business grew, working capital facilities with banks.
Finance aside, how did you go about approaching the branding? Can you tell us about the process and how you arrived at where you are today?
I think about branding a lot. For me, branding is how people feel when they connect with our brand or product. It is more than just something that starts and stops with my marketing department. It stems ultimately from my ‘why’ - I want to do business in a good way, that makes the world (and our customers) a little more Merry. Branding influencers for Merry People; how I hire, how we speak to customers, how we choose suppliers/stakeholders, product creation… basically every part of my business.
In our experience, most founder-led businesses drive the decisions around the brand. So it’s good to know that it means a lot to you and you think about it a lot. What about awareness? How do Merry People get the word out there?
Mostly digital, however, we are doing more offline activity now such as magazines, podcast advertising, partnerships and collaborations.
Great. And what about future challenges? What would you say is the biggest challenge for the business moving forward?
For me, it is maintaining quality products and maintaining our ‘why’.
That makes sense. If you don’t have those two things right, where are you? And for our final question… knowing what you know now, what advice would you give another entrepreneur embarking on their startup journey?
You will fail multiple times but that is a part of the process. Start small so you can get your product or service offering right. Once you get that market validation or early traction signs, you can then look for ways to scale and grow. Also, business is fun, for the most part, so enjoy the ride!